At the end of 2011 we learned that things are worse than we thought. We thought that the economy would turn around but the evidence seems doubtful. Certainly in some respects things are better, but mostly for those who had the least to lose and who were the least worried. For the many others unemployment looms large on the dawn of a new year, half the population is near the poverty level of income, and 20% of the children in this “land of opportunity” are living among the threatened poor. Yes, we expected that, in general, things would have gotten better by now, only to find that many people have simply lost hope. Some polls show clear majorities disapproving of everybody with position and power to make a difference. (And, we thought past election seasons were negative and nasty!) That’s the scene in the U.S. It is much worse in the majority world!
We hoped that fighting and terror, war and conflict, were on the decline, or at least our direct involvement was, but who can tell? One war ends, officially, but our involvement there continues and one wonders what provocation would be enough to force reengagement. Even if not there, what about other places that threaten? How many times do we need to kill the Osamas of the world to feel more safe? And if we truly do not feel safer, how long will it be before we question whether our safety really lies along the path we’re on?
We imagined that much of the world might be headed in a more consistently hopeful direction, with various uprisings among the nations of the world where the people simply insist on their right to be free and to determine how they’ll be governed. Only to see that protesters are best at protesting and the anger that fuels an uprising seldom serves just causes. When the dust and ashes settle the people and their little ones remain far from peace and well-being for all.
Yes, this year we learned that things may be worse than we thought. This sentiment prompts sad acknowledgement most anywhere in the world.
The question is whether the good news of Christ’s coming, and staying, is better than we thought, whether there is more to celebrate and anticipate than perhaps we knew or recognized, whether the depth of disappointment can and will be matched by heights of accomplishment in the Messiah’s new way of being and doing “human?” If so, then wherever the bottom of the bad happens to be, beneath, beside and above it will be more than its match, yes, wonderfully more and better than the most outrageous human imaginings.
Christ followers will answer these latter questions with a stubborn, “Yes!” For, in fact, the good news of Christ’s coming foreshadows the fullness of a day for which the universe was made, a day when the people—all of them—dwell in a land flowing with milk and honey, a land where plenty is the only reality known, the place where shadows have ceased, tears are dried and death is no more. This day, long ago envisioned, is the day when economies operate as designed, for the well-being of people—all the people—and not the other way around; the day when peace will mean not only an end to the fighting, but the prevailing conditions necessary for people to enjoy all they need, indeed, all they want, and again not just for some but for all the people. This day, making possible the thriving that once was status quo, welcomes freedom as the power to choose what is good, right, beautiful and alive for the enjoyment of all. This day—reminiscent of a distant time when all was very good only better because the potential of that earlier time now buds and promises a harvest to end all harvests—this day now dawns with the first gasps of breath signaling the new life of the baby whose birth promises the rebirth of everything and everyone.
That the day dawns with a birth, with the contractions and travail of labor, with the blood and cold of emergent life, with a rapid response from the powers that be that suddenly feel their loss of power, the diminishing of control, as a harbinger of their demise. That the day is followed by a succession of other days that we know nothing about, followed by a relative few days where it seems glory shines briefly before all hell breaks loose—a premature dusk leading to travail of another kind, blood, and death.
That the day for which the universe was made has dawned in such a way both calms the panic we now may feel when the world seems so slow to change and steels the fibers of faith into confidence as we anticipate the surprising end of the day, which turns out to be anything but an end.
Things may be worse than we thought and may get worse before getting better, but Jesus is born and is the Christ who has come to stay. And in his own way, on his own calendar, according to the multiple factors in play in space and time in relation to persons made to be free but blindly bent on bondage—in his own way Jesus makes our day today and tomorrow and always.