This is a homily/reflection written for Christmas Eve, as the introspective waiting place of Advent transitions into the celebratory joy of Christmas. As Christmas Eve approached, I was struck by the question of how Christmas actually addresses the ‘hopes and fears’ to which we gave voice during the Advent season, as more often than not, the things we’ve waited and hoped for go unrealized even as we celebrate with Christmas. As Advent comes to a close, the story of a waiting people continues.
For thousands of years, Israel waited and hoped. An oppressed people, they longed for rescue. Centuries of waiting and hoping.
A thousand years before the birth of Christ the poets of Israels begged God:
God, Restore us, let your face shine on us that we might be saved. Stir up your might and come save us.
One thousand years. One thousands cycles of Advent waiting. Waiting and hoping for rescue and restoration. The story continues.
Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Micah wrote these words:
But you, Bethlehem, though you are small, out of you will come one who will be ruler over Israel, the ruler spoken of in the ancient story. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength and majesty of the Lord. Your people will live securely, his greatness will reach the end of the earth, and he will be our peace.
Three hundred years after this cry for rescue, comes this promise that a ruler will come. Not immediate fulfillment, but a promise for the future. A reason to continue hoping. So the story continues.
Then, 1,000 years after the poet’s cry for help, 700 years after the promise was renewed in the prophecies of Micah, there was reason for great hope and anticipation of the birth of this coming king, for the Lord brought life to a young girl’s womb where there should have been no life, and a baby was on the way.
Mary, filled with the spirit of God, anticipating the mighty deeds God would do through this baby sings:
he has brought down rulers from their thrones, lifted up the humble, fed the hungry, he is remembering to be merciful to our people forever, fulfilling the promises of old.
And Zechariah, filled with the same spirit, sings:
God has raised up a horn of salvation – a king! – to remember his covenant and bring about rescue and redemption.
Expectation was at an all time high. Finally, the cry of 1,000 years and the promise of 7 centuries fulfilled. Or so it seemed.
For thirty-three years after this baby’s birth they waited and expected. For the promised king to lead his people out of the broken past and broken present into the future of their expectations. But the story, always full of surprising twists and turns, continues. Two thousand twelve years later, the story still continues.
It continues because tonight, we gather, and we are still waiting. This last month of Advent we have focused on becoming people of hope in the midst of our waiting. You can only hope for something you do not yet have, so to be a people of hope is to be a people who recognize our world and the lives we live are not yet as they should be. To have hope is to choose to believe that the way things are now is not the way they will always be.
Tomorrow, on Christmas, we will look back two thousand years and say unto us a child – a king – has been born. But we still wait and hope. Because there’s so much in our lives and in our world to wait and hope for.
For jobs. For relationships. For better financial situations. For healing in the broken and lonely places of our hearts. For a world where we don’t worry about children and teachers in our schools. A world where girls in Afghanistan can collect wood without fear of land mines. Where all children in Kenya are embraced with provision and love. A world where the most basic and the deepest needs of our neighbors are met.
In the midst of brokenness, we wait and we hope. Eager for the arrival of Christmas to set things right. To fulfill the hopeful longings of our hearts. To mend and heal the brokenness we see and feel and experience. But tomorrow Christmas will come and the story will continue.
With the poets and prophets, with Mary and Zechariah who looked forward to this baby’s birth, we look back to find our hopes wrapped up in the birth of this baby. But as we look back we find not quick and easy answers or resolutions, but a mystery.
The mystery of royalty born not in a palace but in a stable. The mystery of a king who turns the social order upside down not through power or force but through sacrifice and humility. The mystery of a savior and redeemer who saves and redeems not in the blink of an eye but in an unfolding story – the story of a kingdom that, like a mustard seed or baker’s yeast, in slow and small but steady ways is transforming the world around us.
So tomorrow, even as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the story will continue as this year’s Advent and Christmas lead us into a new year where we continue to wait.
Like the world of Narnia as imagined by C.S. Lewis, we experience a perpetual winter of waiting. Aslan the lion is king, but there is little evidence of that in a world where it is always winter but never Christmas. But for those who continue to wait and watch, signs of hope are everywhere. Snow melting and rivers forming, the sound of laughter and song. Small but sure signs that the promises of old are coming true even as we continue to wait.
The story continues as we wait, but we do not wait without hope. Instead, with eyes of faith, we experience the birth of this baby as a window into the ongoing works of the king and his kingdom. We anticipate the mystery and with Mary, we treasure and ponder how all of our waiting is caught up in the birth of this baby.
Narnia’s winter is our Advent. Prolonged waiting but signs of Christmas everywhere for those with eyes to see.
As you continue to wait, wait not just with hopeful expectation, but faith. Faith that all our waiting will be met in the mystery of this baby’s birth. Faith that our waiting does not go unnoticed. Faith that a baby’s cry signifies a mighty work unfolding even now in our midst.