The first Christmas wasn’t about red cups or decorations, it was an answered prayer. For the first time in hundreds of years, God interacted with His people, the Israelites, in the midst of the military occupation of the Roman Empire. The Israelites were praying and pleading for God to send His messiah, the anointed one, to restore the Kingdom of Israel and free them. In the spirit of Advent1, they awaited the arrival of a revolutionary king to overthrow their oppressors. Their prayers were of a people feeling lost, beaten, and facing the temptation to just accept the status quo. It’d be something like the old song, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Emmanuel, “God is among us,” a prayer in a name; as if saying “God be here, God be with us.” And in Jesus, God answers those prayers, and enters into His broken but beautiful creation, to be amongst his people.
123This historical context can reframe what we think of as the “Christmas spirit.” Just like that first Christmas, our world still faces brokenness. Recent tragedies in Paris, Beirut, Syria, Seoul, and around the world show that creation is in need of healing. Injustice, slavery, death, and sin affect us all. Honestly, it makes me long for heaven. A place where the products of sin are no more. Revelations 21:4(NIV) says, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." There will be no more corrupt systems, no more people lost or without homes, no more tragedies. I can’t begin describe how much I want to live in that kingdom, and that’s a big part of what Christmas is about. We celebrate Jesus coming down to usher in that kingdom and that He’s coming again to see it’s completion.
For me, Christmas exists somewhere between the desperate need for Jesus’ return and the joy that comes from the hope in knowing that the victory is assured. Andrew Byers, calls this “hopeful realism,” a perspective that “embraces the dual realities of contemporary evil and forthcoming redemption.”2 He writes, “Hopeful realists are still groaning with all of creation, but they can detect in the air that sweet fragrance of renewal released by the opening of Christ’s tomb.”3 I think it is in the same heart that Christmas can be so much more than a holiday. It is opportunity for Christians to contemplate and respond to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Following Christ’s example, we can enter into the hearts and prayers of God’s people who cry out for His kingdom to reign on Earth, finally, as it does in Heaven. We can celebrate with joy and assurance that His Kingdom has already started and is heading towards completion. Because even “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is followed by the chorus, “Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel,” God is among us.
The beauty is that Christmas invites us to respond from wherever we are, whether it is with cries of desperation, celebration, or somewhere between. Our hearts can be opened to the needs and sufferings of this world, and our praise and prayers lifted up to Jesus. So this season, my heart and prayers go out to the students on campuses around the world facing injustice. To the people recovering and mourning. To those wondering where their next meal will come from or what their next day will bring. And still, I sing with joy and thanksgiving that He has come and is coming again, that His Kingdom will reign; and on earth, peace.
-- D. Bliss
1 The term “advent” describes the coming or arrival of something and refers to a liturgical period before Christmas observed by various Christians.
2 Byers, Andrew J. "On the Road to Emmaus and Damascus." In Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2011.
3 Byers. Kindle Location 2154. 2011.
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