In a world desperately in need of good news and forlornly weary of platitudes we celebrate the coming of Immanuel—God with us—in the gift of Jesus Glory to God in the highest! Well, yes, but what about us in the lowest?
If it doesn’t work for the whole world and all of reality, does it truly work? That’s a question I have been asking in recent years. I was forced to ask it seriously and urgently when I began going to other places, addressing other cultures, and found that some of my most “creative” stuff just didn’t work there and in those circumstances. So, does it work for the whole world—for the highest and the lowest places and those who inhabit them?
As Christmas Day comes and goes in 2017, the crisis of displaced persons, for whom there is no room in any Inn, rages on throughout the world unabated; tyrannical regimes pursue murderous rampages against the vulnerable like Herod of old; renegade merchants of terror make a killing with impunity; and otherwise legitimate governments posture and threaten as though “foreign policy by expletive” offered in knee jerk fashion makes sense in a world of drones and ransom-ware.
Advent 2017 teases the many who long for all that is wrong to be right with and around them, but have begun to lose hope that it could ever really happen!
Now, here we are, followers of the One who has come, who is here, whom Scripture names Immanuel—”God with us,” celebrating this good news. Can we be serious? I think we can, even though the world is as it is. Let me tell you why I think so.
To begin, the story we celebrate acknowledges the world as it is, or was, which reflects the sad realities I’ve listed and their less than encouraging portents. Into just such a world angels visited, announced the good news, followed by unexpected and miraculous conceptions, real labor, delivery, danger and threat, narrow escape, rejoicing, and then … and then … well what looks like more of the same ole same ole.
The child was born and then many years of hardly a God-sighting, until the beginning of a ministry. Even after that beginning, which was truly exciting and full of unexpected and miraculous signs of God-with-us, there was rejection, abandonment, betrayal, and dying. Of course, after that came resurrection and Pentecost and then wildly expanding and out of control multiplying of God-with-us communities all over the place. Finally, it seemed we were on the way. But, then … again! In other words, upon careful reading the story itself prepares us for how the story unfolds, for the fact that at times it may seem not to be unfolding at all, for moments when we are nearly distracted altogether and tempted to think the story was fanciful fiction rather than ultimate fulfillment.
In fact, upon even closer attention to the story—this time the Advent story itself, we find this same feature. An Angel comes to announce that finally the consolation of Israel is at hand, that ancient promises are to be kept, that the Messiah is coming. But then a baby, in Bethlehem, to nobodies—this is the way God will act? Yes, this is the way. Not as you would think. Not as you would prefer. Not on your schedule. Not by your means. This is the way.
A child is born. A Son is given. The seed is planted. The leaven is working. Here and now, in this world, amongst people dwelling in various shades of darkness, yearning for relief that just seems so long in coming—here and now help and hope inhabits, purpose and power engages, light illumines, life surges, a way opens up by which the NEW comes.
A child is born. A son is given. Watch this child. See him grow and go. Follow him closely. See what he does. Follow carefully. Watch not only what he does but how he does it. Follow closely. Follow him, not other followers, not abstractions of him, not a philosophy about him, but him. Follow. Keep following. Keep watching, maintain focus. See it his way, plan it his way, and walk his way. Follow and keep at it. See what he does. Marvel that it happens in that way, his way! Watch how something small grows large, something hidden all of a sudden pops into view, something weak outwits and outmatches in ways that are huge. See how light exposes and clarifies. See how life swallows up death, how good and right somehow manages to win—not always and not quickly but surely often enough to launch new ventures of hope!
Immanuel! Really and truly.