The Second Friday of Advent
December 9, 2011
In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me. You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. (Psalm 31:1-5)
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:37-39)
Christmas, here in the US, is mostly about happiness and the giving of gifts. The giant blow-up Santas, Snoopys, and Frostys that are powered by generators on people’s front lawns and accompanied by pop holiday songs, can only bring joy to heart of any worshipper. Knowing that the credit card debt we incur during the holidays serves to boost end-of-the-year retail sales in a damaged economy reminds us of the real spirit of Christmas. At least, it reminds us of some kind of spirit.
In the story of Jesus’ coming at his birth, we see a society fighting to retain its religious and cultural identity while living under the domination of Rome. There were multiple stories of life being told to the people. The religious story was one of keeping the Jewish Law and allowing the power elite to frame orthodoxy by their own preferences. The control story belonged to Rome, and it demanded allegiance to the Empire under penalty of death; there could be no lord but Caesar.
There were some who cried out with the psalmist, seeking God for a rescue. But when Jesus came, he was ultimately rejected as the rescue everyone demanded. He recognized that when he lamented over Jerusalem and reflected on their history of destroying their own prophets when they didn’t like the message. Jesus knew what was coming for him. There were other preferred, dominant stories, and Jesus brought something so different and so counter to the other stories that he was rejected by those who thought they had cried out to God for help.
It is interesting that we frame the celebration of Christmas within our own desires for happiness, comfort, and prosperity. But the story of the birth of Jesus is a very different one than the one we enjoy. The joy in his story came in the midst of poverty, mystery, paranoia, and mass murder, but also in the anticipation that God was acting in human history. Some would see that; others would not.
I have to admit that I like all the lights and music and fun of our Christmas celebrations. But I do have to ask myself: If all that was taken away, and all that was left to me was my confidence in the witnesses who have gone before me who tell the story of his coming, would that be enough?
Would Jesus be enough?
“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” (Revelation 2:29)
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