This 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, a few years back, and I never forgot it, what the guy said.
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 had streamed by hauling their luggage under Christmas lights. And I had felt it then and now, 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 and we are all exhausted and bruised. In the face of a global pandemic, the battle over truth, science, data, lockdowns and the efficacy of masks has unmasked gaping chasms of division. Fractured race relations ruptured into the streets and the pain runs deep and how to remember that we are all related to one another and re-member all our brokenness?
The music’s echoing it this time of year, singing something about how it’s the most wonderful time of the year, singing it all through the empty malls and 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 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 minority, 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, to be the very people who suffered because they were regarded as suspect, small, sketchy.
Because the point is: Christmas is the end of division. Christmas is the beginning of the end of all suffering. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
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.
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 used to forget (?!? really? how do you forget? but, 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’ve ended up sitting there on Sunday morning, right there in the middle of a 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 Jesus’ 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 Jesus’ 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 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.
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.
What if Christmas gave us the Gift we need to walk through suffering, live for justice, lay down prejudice?
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 slain.
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 its original language means all wrongness is happily being made right because of Christ.
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 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 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 hum those carols loud throughout the empty 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 the darkness, & a resurrection of all His Light into all our night.
There’s a Love that holds this whole shebang together — even when, especially when, everything & everyone feels a bit banged & busted up —
and we can turn the tunes up louder:
And there it is in the candle light of that one wooden Advent wreath, with the waiting manger there at the center, there at the center of this whole spinning planet:
Jesus there, holding us all together at our centre through the lament and grief and darkness, beckoning us to say it and believe what it really means:
This is the year — to Stay in the Story.
Read the whole Christmas Love Story, from Creation to the Creche, with all 3 of our Advent Books:
- The Greatest Gift (adult 25 devotions edition),
- Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (family read aloud 25 devotions edition),
- and The Wonder of the Greatest Gift (pop-up edition with your own 14 inch tree, 25 days of readings, 25 day advent flap calendar, hiding all 25 Biblically inspired ornaments! For any age)
And find all the FREE Biblically inspired Jesse Tree ornaments here.
This year we aren’t missing out on Jesus & the The Greatest Christmas.