I am one of those people that loves the anticipation period of advent and all the symbolism with it even more than I like Christmas itself. Don’t get me wrong… I love waking up on christmas morning at the crack of dawn to race down the stairs and watch my kids have a blast with their new toys as I munch on cinnamon buns and bacon, but.. there is just something about advent that makes my spirit full.
Have you ever tried to truly wrap your head around what it might have been like for the jews anticipating the messiah. Can you imagine your whole life being told that a savior was coming who would put an end to all the governments and people groups that reeked havoc on your people. A season of waiting that had gone on for generations must have felt like it would never come.
They were told in Isaiah 6:9 a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
They waited in uncertainty for a messiah and it must have been easy to doubt. I can imagine that many would have forgotten to care. The sense of urgency was gone and the complacency with whatever life has dealt them sank in.
Then one day God interrupted time.
For God so loved.. that he sent his only son.
This King of Kings… The son of God. The messiah didn’t come riding on a horse armed to the teeth to save the Israelites.. instead he came as a baby.
Hebrews 2:14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying. 16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters,[h] so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
He came as a man to save mankind… to help us so that we would not only share in his suffering but share in his glory. It’s amazing and all together mind-blowing that our God is that loving.
There seems to be a disconnect these days especially when you turn on the news. The world we live in is such a mess. War is all around us and possibly at our doorstep these days. Terrorists are killing people, extremists are targeting Christians, Sex trafficking is huge in Atlanta, Racism looks like it’s 1950 again, there is video of planned parent hood killing babies and nobody blinks an eye… Our world is in outrage over atrocities and we battle it with fear and ranting Facebook posts in a literally limp wristed attempt at justice by the click of a mouse. Cities are getting blown up by people wearing suicide bombs, politicians are parading their lying evil agendas, millions are starving, There is still homeless in our community, Christians battle each other with hateful words and accusations, prejudice and persecution fill our news headlines, we are afraid to go to the movies and we kick ourselves for profiling people because we never know who to be afraid of. Our response once again is sitting on our couches in amazement and fear.
Where is God in all this?
Where is the God of justice in a world of so much pain and injustice?
These days it is hard to truly appreciate the anticipation of advent. It has been described as an expectation of something we know will come much like a pregnant woman in labor… but we want everything now. We want instant gratification… so every year Christmas gets just a little bit closer and every year we complain about Walmart already having their christmas decorations up in sept… but it’s what we want if we are honest. We want it now! In the same sense we want the God of justice and mercy to come in and fix everything and we get upset and frustrated without the anticipation that HE WILL when he returns.
The other night after a church outreach prep, my co-pastor mark, and I were in the parking lot and a cop pulled up beside us in the parking lot. It was dark and mark and I were like.. oh man here we go. The cops have met us outside our church many times asking why we were there at 10PM…
This time it was different. He got out and let us know that he has been assigned to help, serve and protect the churches in the area. He shared with us that he is a christian and in a worship team. A really nice kid. Then he asked if we would be willing to go through active shooter training with him.
I have to say that even hearing that line made me uneasy. These are the times we are in sadly. I have been in ministry for 20 years and I have never heard the words “we should prepare for an active shooter situation.” .
The enemy comes in like a roaring lion looking to steal and destroy.
So in the mean time… where is God because if I am honest I want to spend this season excited about Jesus and not afraid about our world, but then my social media lights up yet again of another shooting or some other horrible thing that has come from the dark hearts of man.
“While dining at home on December 1, 1863, The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow received a telegram that his son had been severely wounded four days earlier. On November 27, 1863, while involved in a skirmish during a battle of of the Mine Run Campaign, Charley was shot through the left shoulder, with the bullet exiting under his right shoulder blade. It had traveled across his back and skimmed his spine. Charley avoided being paralyzed by less than an inch.
He was carried into New Hope Church (Orange County, Virginia) and then transported to the Rapidan River. Charley’s father and younger brother, Ernest, immediately set out for Washington, D.C., arriving on December 3. Charley arrived by train on December 5. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was alarmed when informed by the army surgeon that his son’s wound “was very serious” and that “paralysis might ensue.” Three surgeons gave a more favorable report that evening, suggesting a recovery that would require him to be “long in healing,” at least six months.
On Christmas day, 1863, Longfellow—a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote a poem seeking to capture the dynamic and dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him. He hears the Christmas bells and the singing of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14) but observes the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truth of this statement.” This story Href
Longfellow writes in I heard the bells on christmas day:
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Isn’t that the place we are in sometimes? This world is a mess, our community is broken, christians can be real hypocritical jerks and persecute each other, families are broken, relationships on the rocks, depression… anxiety and fear are devastating and crippling…
It’s one of the reasons why the Church is so important.. because hate is strong, depression is strong and it flies in the face of peace on earth good will to men.
But.. There is jesus..
I was watching interviews with Canon Andrew White, the Vicar of Bagdad. He was talking about what it is like to have a church in the middle of a warzone. The US is not there of course, but we can learn a lot about what it looks like to deal with fear by Canon Andrew’s church. He shares about kids who are running away from killers and people who have lost everything. The Christians, when asked how do they deal with the fear and the fact that when they are baptized that the next day they might be killed, respond with these lines:
“when you have nothing…Jesus is everything”
“Yeshua is always with me”
If you are reading this and made it this far I want you to sit on those two phrases and then move on to the rest of this piece.
Jesus… Yeshua… casts out fear.
And the angel said “the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel which means God with us.
Where is God? He is HERE! and…
God is not scared of what we are scared of.
God is not bound by what we are bound by.
God is not held captive by our captors
The Creator is NEVER defeated by the creation
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Because we know that our God is with us and for us not only can nothing be against us, but we are given a source of hope. Our world has lost hope and is only in anticipation of more evil.
Advent teaches that the hope of the world came…
John 1:1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.
The hope of the world, emanuel is with us now
John 1:4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.
He didn’t come into this broken world to put a bandaid on it and leave. He came to be emmanuel, God with us. He came to be the good news that “unto us was born our savior”
And Jesus, our hope will return someday and He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.
Longfellow finished his christmas song of listening, pain and despair with these lines:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor doubt He sleeps
The wrong shall fail the right prevail
With peace on earth goodwill to men
If you have lived near a church with bells then you know how loud they can be. For Longfellow, they became a deep reminder of hope. I think about all the times I have been in a funk, wrapped in fear or frustration and then I hear a song or read a verse or God speaks to me through a stranger… and the bells of heaven become more loud and deep in my soul reminding me that no matter how I feel: God is not dead.. He is not asleep. Emanuel is with me.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.
Church, WE are the light of the world. Jesus gave us life so that we would shine bright for him in the darkness of our community.
As you give food to the hungry or clothe the naked
as you pray for a loved one
as you tell your kids Jesus loves them
As you speak with kindness to your starbucks barista
as you give a coffee and a hug to a homeless person
as you love recklessly
As you do anything for the “least of these”…
YOU become the ringing bells that ring more loud and deep and remind those who could no longer hear jesus or anticipated his presence that He is not dead and he is not asleep.
May our prayer for our world be that the eyes of man would then be opened by the ringing bells of the Body of Christ so that like Jacob people would say
“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”.