I’ve been thinking about my post on Advent last week and so allow me to expand on it:
Jesus is the reason for the season. Keep Christ in Christmas. Bah humbug. There you go. That’s my sermon along with about 300,000 other churches. If you have the little bumper stickers and window decals showing the nativity then you already get it so I’ll save my breath and your time. If this is really the point, then what does it mean? As long as we believe in Jesus as our personal Lord and savior, then come Christmas morn everything will be ok. Is that it? Everyone think this understanding will make everything hunky dory? Me neither.
We go through the advent season understanding it as a season of hope and expectation that leads us up to Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth. We hope then that come Christmas morning things will somehow be different and our hopes will be realized and our fears will be gone. But the sad thing that we all know but are afraid to admit is that come Christmas morning everything will still be the same. The bills will still be there, the diagnosis will still be the same – the feeling of despair will not have lifted because we will realize that nothing is different.
We are not the first ones to experience this feeling by any means. Let’s look at the people of Israel. Since the beginning of their existence they were under some sort of oppression. The Egyptians turned them in to slaves, the Assyrians came and took them over, the Babylonians took them away in to captivity, and then when Jesus was born, the Romans held power over them and dictated what they could and could not do. The Jews were understandably tired of this and held on to the hope of a messiah that prophets had spoken of since long ago. This messiah would be a strong leader that would lead the people of Israel back to greatness and to victory over their oppressors. 2,000 years ago angels appeared to some shepherds to tell them that the messiah had been born. This was it. Finally the people of Israel would rise up and once again become a great nation and claim the promises God had made to them in covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David. This was finally it. The painful wait was over. Nobody would ever again put down the people of Israel because their great hope was finally coming to fruition.
The only problem was that not only did that messiah not grow up to gather a great army and encourage the people to fight their oppressors, that messiah encouraged peace and submission to the oppressors. As if that weren’t bad enough, the one who was supposed to lead the great defeat of their enemies was nailed to a cross and killed by those enemies. Once again, the people of Israel had hoped, but things were still the same after all. The same oppressors were still there and would almost 40 years later destroy their precious temple. Not only did it feel like God had abandoned them, but their very vehicle for connecting to God had been destroyed.
Keep Christ in Christmas. Jesus is the reason for the season. Yep, that’s good enough. That will get us through. But what if it will? What if it is the reason, but we have just gotten the interpretation wrong? Isn’t that how Christianity came about in the first place – by an understanding that what they had previously believed was right, but also wrong? That the messiah they had hoped for had actually come, but wasn’t the kind of messiah they thought he would be?
As humans, it’s only natural that we fear the unknown. The shepherds were scared half to death when the angels appeared to them. Even though these messengers had come to tell them some great news that they had waited for for thousands of years, they were scared. Even though a blessing might be right under our nose, we fear it if it does not come in the form that we expect it in. If we don’t recognize it, we fear it. As Christians, in order to alleviate this fear and keep the hope going, we put our faith in a day sometime in the future when Christ will come back and do what the Jews thought he was going to do in the first place – defeat our enemies, eradicate evil, make everything ok. We believe that we are living in the “in between time” – The time after Jesus came and died and rose again defeating evil, but that we are waiting for him to come back and make this defeat realized so that we no longer have to suffer. And so we wait. We stand looking up at the sky, figuratively at least if not literally, and we wait for God to do something and make everything better.
What if though, we like the Israelites have got this Jesus guy, this messiah, all wrong? What if it’s not God that has let us down when we come to the realization that everything is still the same, but it’s we who have let ourselves down? It’s easy for us to say that the Israelites got it wrong. They were expecting a great military leader and all they got was a man on a cross. They were fools because they did not understand what kind of messiah Jesus was to be and ended up being. But as the smart Christians we are we realize that Jesus was not that kind of messiah. He was the kind of messiah that would die and rise again to take away the sins of the world and then come again to bring it all to fruition. They always say that hindsight is 20/20. The only problem is that this return to make everything ok isn’t in hindsight yet. It’s still in the future.
So what if, like the Israelites, the church misunderstood who this messiah is and was? What if it’s not about waiting for him to come back and make everything ok, but what if instead it’s about the example that he made when he was here? What if we were to feed the hungry, give clothes to the naked, comfort the hurting? What if that comfort came back to us when we needed it most and our prayers were answered and fears relieved? What if, by doing the things that this mysterious messiah taught us when he was here, we can wake up on Christmas morning not with despair and hopelessness and longing for something that is so far away and unattainable, but instead we can smile, take a deep breath, and take joy in knowing that things CAN be different. What if, as we gather with our loved ones Christmas morning we see that the promise already has been realized and that we do not have to wait with our heads turned up toward the sky waiting for everything to be alright, but that by the entire church living out the example that Jesus left us that everything really will be alright and the wait is finally over. This gives “keep Christ in Christmas” a whole new meaning. I guess I was wrong – Jesus really is the reason for the season, we just got the meaning wrong.