>Image by Ushlambad via FlickrI sit here right now in a hospital room, worn out from a poor night of sleep as my son had a sleep study for some of his own problems. I have Christmas bulletins in process. There are calls to be made to make sure our various musicians know the hymns. Later today I’ll help deliver food baskets and presents to persons in our community who have some financial needs at this time of year. I have sermons sketched out but not complete. There are still gifts to buy and we worry that we don’t have “enough” to fill the stockings of our kids with all the stuff they expect and all the stuff we want to give them. And I’m sure, when I get up in front of the three different congregations in just a couple of nights, there will be a calm that will come over me and I’ll proclaim, with joy, that Christ has come and our God is here and I’ll pray that this will be a time of peace and love and joy in the lives of my hearers. And I’ll be right.
But, maybe there’s more to this. Maybe I’ll run the risk of making this time just too “quaint” for what it really is. Remember, if you will, that that lovely night that Christ was born was not lovely at all. There was blood. There was dirt and animals and screaming. There was sweat. There was a young couple with no place to stay and forced to have their baby among the livestock. And this…THIS…is how our God comes to us. Ironic, isn’t it? The King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, born in this way.
The only people that “got it,” according to our Scriptures were the shepherds themselves. Then, of course, the Magi who came from a long way away. All the local religious folk didn’t get it. Makes me wonder about all of our good religious folk. Why do we think we have a corner on the market of a Christmas understanding? We’re the first ones touting all that that sweet little baby in the manger means for the world and I wonder if we’re not the very people that meaning, at least in Scripture, was hidden from.
So, what if we looked for something different? What if, instead of a “nice” Christmas or a “Merry” one, we prayed for one that would turn our world upside down and turn our lives upside down. Childbirth is not a “silent night” event. What if the Christ that is born anew in our hearts comes not with silence but with an upheaval of the power structures, of the priorities of the day? What if we were a different people on December 26th? What if our world was a different world the day after? Perhaps that is what it means when the God of the Universe moves into our neighborhood (John 1, Peterson’s The Message).
This reflection…this prayer…this morning…has been fed by Mike Cooper’s blog post over at The Gospel Coalition. It’s entiteld, “Christmas: The Hinge of History.” Here’s a good chunk of it. Please go read the full post for more:
Christmas is violent. It’s earth-shattering. The very order of things, the way the world worked, was being rewritten. In 1811, an earthquake in Missouri caused church bells to ring in Philadelphia and made the Mississipi River run backwards. When the Christ-child gasped his first breath, the hinge of history swung in a new direction, and hell shuddered. The assault on its gates had begun.
We celebrate Christmas right at the Winter Solstice—a bit of metaphorical genius, if you ask me (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere). Right as the year reaches its coldest, just as the nights get their longest and darkest, we open our Bibles and read,
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2)
Historically, the church observed Advent in the month before Christmas, a month of fasting and anticipation. I grew up in churches that skipped the fasts and dove straight into the fa-la-la’s. Discovering Advent was like discovering Good Friday. A deep well of meaning gave Christmas wider and broader dimensions. For all of Christmas’s cause for celebration, there’s an accompanying need to awaken our minds to the surrounding desperation. The world was, and remains in many ways, in darkness. Christmas is part of that glorious already/not-yet tension, where the finished song of redemption awaits the “Amen!” of restoration. We celebrate Christmas in a broken and fallen world, in broken and fallen churches full of broken and fallen people.
Whatever we do in these coming days, let’s not miss the truly epic story of irony and violence that is the “true meaning” of Christmas.
So…what would it look like this morning, as we wait for hospital food to be delivered, as we get up and face the day, as we wonder if we got the right gifts or enough gifts…what would it look like to pray for an EPIC…EARTH-SHATTERING…VIOLENT…CHRISTMAS UPHEAVAL?
(HT to SDSmith for pointing me in Mike Cosper’s direction.