(Written on December 9th for the Winthrop Wesley Winter newsletter)
I have been struck this Advent season with contrasts and contradictions. I listen or try to escape from Christmas music on the radio this time of year and its frequently a sharp contrast to everything I see around me whether driving, in lines, trying to cross things off the gift, party, and card lists, and in all the “stuff” that goes into the preparations of this season.
Yes, Advent is that season of preparation, but not necessarily the preparations we make. This is a preparation that’s not just about the everyday hustle and bustle but also about getting ready for something completely out of this world—something revolutionary, new, an in-breaking of the kingdom of God. We get ready for the coming of God in the form of a baby—a God who dwells among us and with us. But we also get ready for the second coming of our savior—a time when there is good news and great joy for ALL people. This is good news not just for the pretty ones or smart ones or the ones lucky enough to be born on the right side of the tracks or in the wealthy country, but for all of God’s children.
I think of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the wisemen, the prophets – a mix of folks. I think about some of the sights and sounds we saw at Journey to Bethlehem. I think of the words of the prophet—to look to the star and that there is One who is coming who is beyond our imagining. This story is not just one of familiar and beautiful manger scenes and it’s certainly not just a good children’s story. These were trying times and people were being taxed and children lost lives as Herod began his search for the Christ child.
A couple weeks ago I began reading the series The Hunger Games. Excellent adolescent literature so perfect for my brain at the end of a semester. Suzanne Collins does an amazing job bringing this post-apocalyptic world to life. She got the idea from flipping through channels on her television and seeing on one channel a reality tv competition and on the next footage of the Iraq war. Her stories are not for the faint of heart. They are violent and graphic and terrifying. It’s not a pretty picture of people sending their children off to fight to the death. See—I told you not a rosy colored story.
But that’s not much different from the context Jesus arrived in. Here these people were under Roman control, not knowing what was going to be demanded of them next—their money, their children, their lives. The thing about the books—there’s no savior at the end. For some of us, we relate to some of these horrors. There are hard things that we see everyday whether it be a fifth grader committing suicide or children going without food or the loss of a friend or loved one or the loss of one’s job or home.
For some this isn’t just a hustling and bustling time of year, but it’s a painful time. That’s there. That’s part of the story. Pain and hurt and fear are there. But there’s also this thing that I can describe only as wonder. The thing about this season is that as much as I think my heart is hardened or as much as I’ve blocked out the music since it’s started playing after Halloween this year or as much as I feel caught up in finishing the semester and trying to keep the kids from going crazy waiting for Santa—the wonder of Christmas inevitably sneaks up.
You see, it’s not about all these things or all this chaos. But it’s also not just about our current circumstance. Because we are told very clearly, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be for all people . For unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord and has name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace…” This Prince of Peace can give us that peace that transcends all understanding whether it be as we are awaiting grades or exam results, health questions, job changes, or life decisions.
And this kind of peace can transform the world. Not just people in this place, in this community, or in this land—but all the world. My hope over this Christmas break is that in the midst of everything as students are catching up on sleep and connecting with family and friends and as all of us frantically try to make it through, that we can find time to stop and breathe and take in what it means to be a people who believe in this Emmanuel, a people who believe and live out this peace.
Merry Christmas to all of you and much love, peace, and blessings!