New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
These are familiar words that we often hear at a Christmas Eve service. These are some of my favorite words of the Advent season. You see, because we all have walked in deep darkness, the color of ink, and we have felt the light of Christ pierce that darkness. Our darkness. The world’s darkness.
It doesn’t feel like Christmas to me. Christmas is supposed to be cold. Evy, my 5 year old, is really expecting it to snow on Christmas Eve. I don’t know where she’s gotten that information, whether from a book or a song or a movie, but she’s convinced of this. Guess where we’re spending Christmas? In lovely Gainesville, Florida. The likelihood that she’ll see snow on Christmas Eve is slim to none. Mike didn’t feel like it was Christmas yet with the 80 degree whether that we’ve been having so he started playing Christmas music in the house, much like the radio stations that try to cram Christmas music down our throats until we’re being sufficiently festive. But I have to admit, in my Grinch-like heart, to feeling slightly in the Christmas spirit, on Friday and Saturday as we finally had a chance to decorate and as Amy Grant’s Christmas albums played on the itunes.
You see, Advent is that time of preparation. Of preparing our hearts, whatever way that gets us to turn the world off for a second, whatever hook we need to expect the unexpected. 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 angels – a mix of folks. 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.
How many of you have seen Catching Fire? This is the second movie in The Hunger Games trilogy. I’ve still not seen it yet. 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 channel footage of the Iraq war. Her stories are not for the faint of heart. They are violent and graphic and terrifying. It’s people being forced to send their children off to fight to the death. Mike and I looked forward to the first movie, but we both felt uneasy after watching that being portrayed on screen. And you’re supposed to be uneasy with it.
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 every day whether it be 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. For so many their Christmas traditions have a missing void as new traditions are made and a new normal is established.
We take comfort in that 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 that class exam that is for our particularly hard class, grades or exam results, health questions, job changes, life decisions or larger questions like what are we going to be when we grow up and what’s my purpose and what is the meaning of life.
This kind of peace can transform the world. Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday, said “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” We give others the courage to do the same. Mandela lived his life in a way that inspired others to let their light shine. 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.
Alex Miller sent me this video this past week.
“I feel so far away from my kids down there.”
God almighty, God the creator of the universe, God that was, and is, and is to come – came to earth as a tiny baby. The most vulnerable thing on Earth.
I LOVE it when the kid says, “Brilliant! They won’t be expecting that!”
I also love the little girl’s question to God, “Lord, how will people know he’s there, what if they don’t notice?” God answers, “Those who are looking will find him and his mission will bring all people closer to me, even if they do something really wrong. When the Prince (of Peace) is done, nothing will get between them and my love.”
Love came down on Christmas. Amen and amen.
“Peace On Earth” – Casting Crowns
Extended Version of the Christmas Story