What kind of preparation would be required when God shows up to announce the good news that he is the rightful Lord of this world and that he is about to make everything right? Surely that would be the most momentous event in human history. Who would be God’s “advance team” to get people ready? What would they do to prepare people for God’s coming? How would they go about their work?
Joy is not so much meant for the good times as it is for the tumultuous times. This genuine joy does not deny the existence of pain, heartache, and loss, but it also acknowledges the strength of our God to heal, mend, and restore. Joy must be engaged and actively adopted. The season of Advent is about the arrival of the Savior and the joy he brings to the nations in the midst of our darkest hours.
Here we are at another Advent season—when we commemorate the anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ. To set the scene biblically, it was a time of great darkness in the earth, and more specifically in the Jewish community. They had been waiting for the arrival of their Savior with the expectation that he would turn the tables of their misfortunes. Exile, captivity, oppression, the pervasive humiliation of second-class status—over time, these feelings compiled to birth… hope.
Darkness is our beginning / Not our ending. // We begin in darkness / The womb of Creation / Covering the face of the deep. / So also, darkness is the beginning / Of Redemption. // A Star appears in the darkness— / A signpost to the wise / Of all times and from all places / To leave their darkness / And journey to find him / Who is Light.
The pain and trauma of this world are not unfamiliar to the Christmas story… Baby Jesus was entering a battle zone full of oppression, sickness, and death—not a world filled with mistletoe, gingerbread houses, and holiday parties. Jesus came, in the midst of all this, to eradicate death, free the oppressed, and fill us with unspeakable joy. This is the fullness of what it means to “save his people from their sins.”
The Christmas story we know from popular culture can be so sanitized that perhaps the ideas of sickness, isolation, and hopelessness sound foreign to you—perhaps even sacrilegious for the Advent season. But Jesus chose to be born into a broken world and to take on our pain in order to make us whole. Leaders who come near to the pain of those they lead will find they are emulating Jesus.
It takes intentionality and effort to “make our dwelling among” those we lead. Being present with our followers takes time and attention… “Flesh and blood” leadership, the incarnational leadership that Jesus taught and embodied, requires something more. It means finding ways to live among—in other words, to enter the world of—those we lead.
Today is, as you know, Christmas day. For millions of people around the world, it is a day of celebration and rejoicing.
It is for me, too, though this will be an unusual Christmas for my family and me.
Today is Christmas Eve. If you go to church this evening, chances are you may see an enactment of the Christmas story, complete with shepherds and maybe even sheep. This is especially true if you attend a service meant for younger children and families. (The photo comes from a Christmas Eve service at Irvine Presbyterian Church. My daughter is the shepherd with the light blue shawl.)
On this last day of Advent, I want to point our attention back to Mary, who has journeyed for 9 months knowing that she is carrying the Son of God, whose reign will be eternal (Luke 1:26-38).