The old guy had said that there’s a Love that holds this whole shebang together —
even when, especially when, everything & everyone feels a bit banged & busted up.
He’d turned & said just that to me, right there in the airport terminal.
Complete stranger. Never met the guy before. He wore his blue jacket like a badge of quiet respect, glasses, warm smile, ebony skin.
And we were both just sitting there on those blue vinyl seats, looking up at the news flashing loud across the screen they had hanging from the ceiling there at Gate G21, like the whole world was suspended right there in this waiting.
In this painful, expecting waiting and the piped in Christmas carols trying to drown out the news.
Someone told me that this Advent has felt more like a Lent — a grieving.
People streamed by hauling their luggage under Christmas lights. All of us feeling the staring of the overweight baggage of a year that just ached at the seams.
You don’t have to close your eyes to see how the news has been screaming for months. The Syrian Civil War robbed us all of another 30,000 lives this year, now more than a quarter million faces erased from our planet since the war erupted.
ISIS wielded their bloody knife at our world and we recoiled and curled around our freedoms to believe. Paris reeled and we prayed for peace and San Bernardino wailed for their lost and children drowned in the Mediterranean looking for refuge and someone to take them in as they fled war.
The music’s echoing down to our gate, singing something about how it’s the most wonderful time of the year, singing it all through the airport terminals, like they forget that we’re all terminal, forget that we’re all grieving, forget that we’ve got people we love fighting, fighting each other and fighting cancer under blinking, twinkly lights by these radios that just keep spinning all these Christmas tunes that can seem all out of tune to the howl of our pain.
How in the world does a weary world rejoice?
We may not know why God doesn’t stop all the different kinds of suffering — but we definitely know it’s not because He’s indifferent.God is so moved by our being entangled in suffering — that He moved Himself into our world and entangled Himself in the suffering with us. God with us.
God knows suffering.
He chose to be born in the middle of a genocide.
God knows suffering. He chose to be born as a refugee.
God knows suffering. He chose to come from a place where people said no good thing could come from.
God knows suffering. He chose to be poor. He chose to absorb pain. He chose to be powerless.
God penetrates the ache of our world through the willing yes of a poor, unwed teen. In both the Incarnation and the Resurrection, God reveals Himself first to the dismissed and disregarded and dissed.
God chose the first witnesses to both His nativity & to His nailed hands alive to be the very people who suffered because they were regarded as suspect, small, sketchy.
The road’s been weary, but we can rest beside the road, beside the boarding gate, beside each other, and listen to how the angels sing.
Christmas is the end of thinking anyone is better than anyone else, because Christmas says that everyone needed Christ to come down from heaven and carry every single one of us, every single step of the way back to heaven. Christmas says that we all need rescuing, we all need a Savior.
Christmas is the end of racism, elitism, egotism. Christmas is the end of thinking, “Oh, them.” Christmas is the end of us vs. them — because it is now us with Him. God had to come for all of us.
Every single one of us Gate G21 and all the beautiful people carrying their bags under the Christmas wreaths, all us travellers under the Christmas lights of soaring doves and a whole blinking globe strung up there from the ceiling, all us attached to Someone Higher.
This is what His glory does —- Like a river, His glory in the highest runs down to meet us who are at our lowest, those left out in the field, those who’ve lost our flock, lost our way, lost our hope, His glory in the highest always runs down to meet us who are at our lowest.
This is what lets us sing like the angels did.
And it strikes me then, and yeah, why not just go ahead and straight up confess it, because it’s happened and way too often: One of our kids forgets (? really? how do you forget? okay, that’s their story and they’re sticking to it!) — they forget to shower out of the barn after chores, after feeding hogs, tending sows.
So yeah, more times than I can count, we end up sitting there on Sunday morning, right there in the middle of the spit and polished congregation and Sunday preaching — with one of our kids smelling like the barn. Smelling to high heaven of manure stink and hogs.
Which is the exact same stench as the Christ Child’s family after they left that reeking stable and wandered into the town square with all the people.
And if it were you standing next to Christ’s family how would you have felt about them? How easy would it have been to be offended by their presence?
What if Christmas was about seeing Christ in that family member you think just stinks —- seeing Christ in that neighbour you’re tempted to be offended by, in those politics you’re offended by, in the people you’re offended by, in the point of view you’re offended by?
What if Christmas gave us the Gift we need to walk through suffering, live for justice, lay down prejudice?
What if Christmas demonstrated how to overcome suffering and evil with good, demonstrated how God overcame the world’s suffering and evil forces by willingly laying aside His power and becoming a helpless babe, demonstrated how the strong turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, seek peace — quietly lay themselves down so that there might be peace on earth and good will toward men.The greatest gift we can give at Christmas time is the greatest gift we can give to anyone at anytime — and that is the gift of Grace.
So Listen. Listen. What if Christmas was about drawing close enough to listen to each other’s pain?
Let the ear hear the Advent laments of those who can’t breathe for their sadness.
The act of hearing each other destroys all fearing each other… And the discipline of listening is the quickening and the signalling of the repositioning of the great commissioning of the Kingdom to Love the marginalized because this is where the Word writes the greatest words.
God comes to the suffering and the marginalized — because this is where the Word writes the greatest words.
Let the shield of our eardrums be beat into the cupping edge of a gentle plow because if we’re always defending our point of view, we’re always missing the point that could point us toward growth.
Let us listen to one another in the depths of our suffering and sadness — and only speak words that make souls stronger. We know what words can do — because we know what the Word has done.
We know and won’t forget that Christmas is more than a story about sleigh bells jing-jing-jingling — Christmas is the beginning of the story where death itself gets killed.
We know & won’t forget: Christmas is the story that turns around the story of suffering in our lives.
We know & won’t forget: Merry Christmas in it’s original language means all oppression is dead.
Bethlehem’s the opening of the shock and awe of God to end a long war against all suffering & oppression & wrong. The promised seed of the woman, Jesus, will snap that snake, crush the skull of that snake, heal us from the insanity of sin and suffering and destroy that snake.
Infinite God comes as an infant and we won’t forget it: Dragon slayers can come looking like small beginnings.
And He is the One Who comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found — He comes to make His blessings known to you, far as the curse is found near you.
Advent means “expectation” and hope is our expectation, peace is our anticipation, and He is our transformation, and everywhere right now, even amongst us:
In the midst of our lament & our suffering we will be the humble and the brave who “prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. And every valley shall be exalted & every mountain & hill shall be made low & the crooked shall be made straight & the rough places plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
And all of us together will reach out —
and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.
All of us together will make space for Jesus to come into our centre and be God amongst us, God remaking us, and all of us together will not detach ourselves from the suffering of others, from our own suffering, but we will be the peacemakers, the Kingdom keepers, the wounded healers, because He came to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found — which means Christmas belongs precisely right where the curse is found.
So we sing those carols loud throughout the airport terminals, light those candles around our tables like we’re torching back the night and we whisper it brave: Merry Christmas — take that dark night of our trouble.
Merry Christmas —
Take that hopelessness, take that misery, take that despair.
Because Merry Christmas is an insurrection & a resurrection.
Because Merry Christmas is an insurrection against all our night & a resurrection of all His Light into all our night.
When we’re called to board our flight, I nod my thanks to the man in blue with the ebony skin, his words ringing in me — there’s a Love that holds this whole shebang together — even when, especially when, everything & everyone feels a bit banged & busted up —
and I fly home and the Farmer and I and the kids stand with a congregation and sing it:
‘Oh Holy Night… Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains He shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in His name all oppression shall cease ….
A thrill of hope — the weary world rejoices.’
We come home and there it is before the hearth and I can feel the heat of it in all our hearts:
there in the candle light of that one wooden rotating carousel nativity, there in all this globe of spinning,
Jesus there, holding us all together at our centre through the night, every whirling turning of the nativity like this brave, bold whisper:
An Advent Lament — that proclaims a Brave Merry Christmas…
That lets us grieve — and yet believes
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