The Christmas season, for the most part, is just like any other season of our lives; just elevated. We are more busy and excited – anticipating get-togethers, family meals, travel, gift giving and receiving. For others, the Christmas season can be disappointing, even heartbreaking – not enough money for the gifts we want to give, pain over the absence of loved ones, broken marriages where families have to split time, or the sheer fact that people spend Christmas hungry – resenting that the holidays take place in winter where the cold is too much to bear without a home.
Despite where you fall on the spectrum of Christmas cheer, one thing remains the same – come December we enter into the season of Advent that, despite our joy or sadness, distractions, and gifts – does not and has not changed. Advent, like it always has done since the first Christmas day, bids us to participate in the observance of a promise. In a season of busyness it stills our swiveling heads and hearts to the promise as old as time, but not captive to it. The promise that on that first Christmas day, Jesus Christ was born into his world so that he could save his world from sin with every intention to return to his world as the King he has always been. Advent and Christmas reminds us of the promise of Jesus. And that changes everything.
What we find in this promise is that in a season that favors the wealthy and those who can match each other gift for gift, Jesus can only be received. That means that whoever and wherever you are, all that you have, or want, or desperately need, we are leveled and all found wanting. God himself is not interested in a gift exchange but provides us with THE gift that fills the empty handed and dares those with an obnoxious bundle of things to drop all of it.
Our greatest hope, our only hope is the promise that the gift of good news has come. And news is precisely what it is. Mockingbird ministries, in their short book Law & Gospel, address the difference between knowledge and news:
We live in a time of unprecedented knowledge: a day’s worth of new data now would be, in terms of raw amount of information, the envy of entire centuries past. Knowledge equips us to better live in the world around us…crucial to our ability to manage our lives and adapt.
On the contrary, they speak of news through the lens of Walker Percy. The Catholic writer describes news as a messenger running into a crowded room yelling “Fire!”. Those in the room would flee the building without giving second thought to the sentence structure of the warning. He goes on to say that news cannot be easily tested but has a “peculiar relation to the well-being of the hearer…that news connects with the hearer’s particular plight.” In a world so saturated by knowledge and rational thought, personal betterment, and hierarchical ladders, the gravest of situations is pretending we are not in need of news.
In Isaiah 9 we read of the foreshadowing of this good news of what we need and what we ultimately receive on the first Christmas day in Jesus Christ.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
But perhaps the most spectacular and jarring realization later in the verse we read of Jesus as King. A child is born, yes, and that is a cause for joy. But we can only be comforted if that child is King. The good news is that he is and will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
This deeply political talk explicitly reminds us that Christ will turn this world on its head and love it all the same. That news from Isaiah is news we desperately need. And, it is news that we long for. The very season of Advent is remembering the Jesus who was promised, the Jesus who came, and the Jesus that is coming again.
And so as the Christmas season begins to pick up, Advent calls us to slow – to take in or receive for the first time the absurd grace and miraculous promise of the baby Christ King. Advent is the re-orientation to the promise that a light has dawned in the valley and the manger is full on Christmas morning. And that changes everything.