The message of Christmas means that things are not what they seem, that a new world has dawned so that we find ourselves on the front edge of powerful and beautiful realities worthy of the Maker who became like the made in order to re-make everything better than new. In the jubilant words of Mother Mary:
46 “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”
(Lk. 1:46-55 NLT)
In considering Mary’s song, many of us should be struck by the stark contrasts between our relatively full and richly blessed life and the way it was and is for most of the world’s peoples. In truth, it was not primarily to the likes-of-us that Jesus was given, in the first instance. The first recipients of Christmas-giving were, like Mary, relatively poor folk. This good news initially delighted mostly the lowly, and was most deeply appreciated by those who were last and least. Indeed, the joy of the first Noel was not a confirmation of a fullness only a few already enjoyed (and was certainly not their entitlement or right!), but a promise that the hungry were to be fed, the empty made full, the oppressed liberated, and the sad made glad by dream-come-true good news tailored specifically for the bad news situations with which most people were stuck.
A merely worldly-vantage point could suggest little has changed in the two millennia since.
Our Advent observances, however, offer us a strange means of grace when we face this fact: the joyful good news of Jesus’ coming was a threat to all whose comforts trace to sources other than the outrageous generosity of God that stopped at nothing for the sake of us all. We might therefore consider what forms of celebration help us find joy in the gift of Jesus on its own terms. That is, how might the coming of Jesus gather us up into His continuing over-the-top generosity for the sake of others, especially others yet to know?
As we look ahead from this vantage point, we will perceive that MSNBC, CNN and FOX never simply tell it like it is. No, despite the varied signs to the contrary—such as global pandemic, widening gaps between rich and poor, terror and war, economic crises, political corruption, social/cultural disintegration, environmental disasters, and whatever other woes—despite such signs, something has happened and is happening in the gift of this child, something decisive and sure. Indeed, something like transformation is afoot; not just change, but transformation, a comprehensive and extreme makeover!
The good news of this season will not be limited in scope to some people but will expand and reach toward all people; it’s not suited to just one time but all time and then beyond time; and it’s not targeted merely toward humans—and certainly not some part of the human being—but all creatures great and small and every facet of creation in all its magnificent variety. We can insist on it and affirm it, long and yearn and pray for it, and give our lives in the New Year to participate in His work to make it so.
Because “Immanuel,” God-in-Jesus present and at work, must become everyone’s reality.