The Christmas story as told by the gospel writers has two sides. One is beautiful. One is broken. Both come together to form a single story that offers us what Fleming Rutledge says is, “an unparalleled opportunity to take a fearless inventory of the darkness in our world and in our hearts, into which the True Light will come.”
The story reminds us that God enters into the darkness and meets us in our messes.
The first Christmas was not celebrated with discounts from merchants and merriment from governments committed to honoring the Christ of Christmas. Yes, there was gold and frankincense and myrrh, but there was also pain and blood and tears. Christmas is about Herod the Great ordering a genocide. It is young mothers from Bethlehem to Jerusalem clinging to their baby boys as the soldiers storm in to their homes with knives in their hands. Christmas is fathers feeling helpless with no way to stop the executive order to have their sons murdered. Christmas is Mary and Joseph fleeing their home as refugees to escape from Bethlehem to Egypt, not knowing if they would ever be able to return.
There was a war with Christmas from the beginning and it began long ago. The poet-prophet Isaiah said:
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:6-7)
In a strange way it’s exactly this ongoing war with Christmas that becomes our hope.
Christmas is the story of God as the Coming One who disorders the world as we know it for the sake of an alternative world in line with the realities of the coming future of God. Jesus, as Israel’s Messiah, proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God as good news and demonstrated the nature of that reign by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins, healing the sick, casting out demons, eating with tax collectors and sinners, and inviting all hearers to leave the realities of the old way of doing things behind to serve the coming future of God. God has come and is coming, offering us the hope of a world the principalities and powers of the age are incapable of giving us—a restored world where self-giving love, abiding peace and unending joy flow from the fullness of God’s presence. It is a world that through His in-breaking kingdom, has come into the present through the Resurrected Lord, yet is a world that will fully come in His Return in the consummation of His kingdom—the final Advent. This is the advent story.
In the meantime, you and I can know that as the way with Christmas carries on and each one of us are playing our part, God still enters into the darkness and meets us in our mess. Advent reminds us that we must wait.
We wait in hope, peace, joy and love. In a world filled with divisive politics, the suffering of places like Libya, the violence of poverty despite the abundance of wealth, and the sheer weight of brokenness that arises from the death-dealing grip of the pursuit of power, we need Advent in order to remember. We need to remember to trust that God is at work in the world. We need to remember that through the coming of the long expected King Jesus God’s people have been invited to join him in his work as watchful, waiting and discerning witnesses to the world that is and is to come.