Our world has turned Christmas into a soft, cuddly shopping spree lit with LED lights and filled with men dressed in Santa suits giving out hot chocolate and holiday gift promises. But this is not the world Jesus entered. The world He came into was dark, foreboding, and fearful. It was filled with loss, grief and pain. For 400 years God was silent and just before that His people were in exile. It was not the image of a Macy’s showroom with candy canes and a man in a big, red suit.
Our world right now is not too different from the world Jesus entered. We’ve learned some of the hardship and pain the Hebrews knew; some of the pain the rest of the world has known for some time now. We’ve experienced a virus that we can’t eradicate in a few weeks. We’ve witnessed rioting in our streets and murder in our cities. We’ve seen an economy that is touted as one of the best in the world walk a tightrope for the last 6 months with no promise of return in the near future. We endured one of the most contested elections in recent history. And now we are being told, as Christmas nears, that virus cases are on the rise again. Just like addiction, we all now know someone who has had the virus and died from it. Life in 2020 is dark. But we still dare to hope.
For 400 years life was dark for the Israelites. 400 years with no word from a prophet, no revelation from an angel, no voice from Heaven at a sacrifice. Some managed by coming up with more rules for living. They reasoned if they had more boundaries God would be more pleased with their lifestyle. Some managed by turning their back on God altogether and focusing their attention on more pressing needs: overthrowing the Roman government or acquiescing to it to gain favor or position. But some, a small but mighty few, did not let go of hope. They refused to believe God would abandon them forever. They trusted the Scriptures that said God would send One who would deliver them from sin and death and they looked for Him on a daily basis. They trained their children to look for Him on a daily basis. They didn’t know His name or the time of His birth, but they refused to stop believing. 400 years is time enough for truth to pass into myth and myth into legend. The birth of Jesus was akin to our conversations about Big Foot or the Loch Ness monster. Most people resigned themselves to thinking He would never come and any mention of Him was a waste of time; something only speculators and alien watchers would do. Most people got on with the business of life. But for a few.
When Light first broke the silence on the eve of Mary’s pregnancy, it did so in a home of one of those few. Mary and Joseph held on. They held on because their parents and their grandparents held on. They still believed. When the angel first appeared to them and they got over their shock, he didn’t have to convince them of his reality or the reality of his promise. Their hearts were right and they both simply believed. When the angel first appeared to John’s father Zachariah, the same weighed true. Zach didn’t doubt the birth of his Son, the fact that John would serve as the forerunner of the Messiah or that the Messiah was actually on the way. His only question was about his aged wife’s ability to physically deliver a child. Neither did the shepherds question God’s relevance, existence or plan when the angels made their birth announcement clear that starry night. They simply believed and followed their instructions to the manger. Neither did the wise men question God’s wisdom to them. They walked hundreds, if not thousands of miles to reach the home of a little boy and give him their gifts. All of this is evidence of Heaven’s Light in the midst of evil’s darkness; love and healing in the midst of pain and grief and death.
No where do we read of Jesus’ purpose to eliminate suffering and darkness on earth. Christmas has never been best represented by scented candles and fruit cake. It was into a dark, forlorn world that Jesus was born. His Light shown brightest when the night was at its darkest point. I believe the same rings true for us today.
As we prepare for Christmas this year let’s do so with our eyes on the only Light available. We need not despair the darkness so thick around us. We may not be able to overcome it but He already has! Every single time you are tempted to fix your eyes on the dark plans and intentions that surround us, cry out to the Conqueror! His presence may not eliminate your pain but He always makes the situation better. More than the alleviation of the pain, Jesus brings purpose and hope to our darkness. It may not leave immediately but with His presence we have a way out. Trust Him and His guidance. It’s pitch black right now…but for the Light!