My most recent post to the Bennington Banner. Here’s the link:
This is the strangest experience, but I can’t think what to say.
Roughly every month I’m afforded 800 words in one of the Saturday Bennington Banners to share my understanding of God, religion, and spirituality as a Jesus follower and Christian pastor. Usually I write about 1000 words, and have to spend an inordinate amount of time cutting here, and trimming there, to get it under the cap. This is a task at which I am usually successful.
But right here, and right now, I got nothing.
Which is very strange, because, well, it’s Advent! It’s one of the big ones! Across the world, Christians are preparing their sanctuaries, and their hearts, to welcome the Baby Jesus back into the world by inviting the Christ Child once more into their hearts. It’s a huge thing. It’s important, and one would think I wouldn’t be able to shut up about it.
And yet nothing
But maybe that’s ok.
When God deemed the time right, God chose to enter the world in the form of a human child. And though our shepherds heard angelic choruses, and magi followed a star, the real marvel of the birth of this child who was born to be the King of Kings is that there really wasn’t any marvel at all.
All there was to bear witness to the fact that God was doing a new, amazing thing out of love, was emptiness, and fear, and rejection, and the cold, cold night.
Mary and Joseph traveled the 100 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a long, hard journey, likely on foot, with a young woman in the final days of pregnancy, and:
6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. [Luke 2:6-7, NRSV]
That’s it. That’s all we get. That’s all THEY got.
Oh, the shepherds would come, maybe that night, maybe a few nights later, well after the worst was over, and the baby and mother were recovering from their shared ordeal. And yes, the magi would come with their famous gifts sometime later, probably after the census crowds had left the city; by the time those wise gentles had arrived the family were no longer in the stable, but lodging in the house.
THEN there would be time for celebration and glory and worship and praise.
But on that cold night, when they were shut out of the warmth and safety of shelter, when they were denied the warmth and safety of friends and family, there was nothing.
For many of us that’s how the holiday season goes. For whatever reasons, we’re shut out from warmth and security, and family and friends. We can feel disconnected and alone, and feel like there’s nothing nothing for us, nothing about us. And nothing to do with us.
But if the Advent message has anything to say into the darkness of isolation that can come upon us like a storm, leaving us wondering why other people get to celebrate when all we can do is hide our sadness; if the Advent message has anything to say to us when we feel cold and left out, neglected and forgotten, it’s that those feelings are PART of the story of Jesus.
Mary and Joseph lived through a kind of despair I can’t even imagine, forced to give birth to their child in that cold, unsanitary, smelly place. But on the other side of the coldness they experienced, coldness of body and of heart, on the other side of the darkness of fear they endured, there finally came the gifts, and the worship, and the glory.
Because they endured the darkness, they brought the light of hope into the world.
And that light of hope still shines. It shines for all of us, no matter what we’re experiencing, no matter what we’re suffering through. That light of hope shines for us when we’re sad, when we’re lonely, when we’re neglected and forgotten, when we’re marginalized, when we’re cast out by those we love, when we don’t know where our next meal might come from, or how we’re going to keep the lights on at home.
That light of hope is there to remind us that the one thing we never have to worry over, the one thing we can never, NEVER lose, is the love of our God that came down at Christmas for your life and for mine.