This isn’t about Walmart greeters or Starbucks cups.
Sunday before last we had some visiting musicians at church that played “Mary Did You Know.” Now, time for a little confession…I believe that Mary Did You Know is
one of the top three worst Christmas songs ever… every bit as good as Little Drummer Boy and Do You Hear What I Hear.
While they were playing the song, for the first time, I could imagine Mary there, holding that baby. I mean, we read that Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloth and laid Him in the manger. But realistically, she must have held that sweet little thing, nuzzling Him, tracing the outline of a little nose, touching ten tiny fingers, leaning into Joseph to show him the dream that rested on the infant’s face.
I sat there imagining Mary and looked around for someone with a baby near me who i might convince to let me snuggle for a minute or two. Drats. None at hand.
After that morning I went from part time carol singing to full time, like it was my job.
This morning I went into work early this morning and hit play on some of my favorite Christmas music. Oh there was the best of them all, with its grit and its darkness, its admittance of struggle and shadow. It is a walk on a damp fall day, the smell of wet decaying earth around you, coat pulled tight around you for it is colder than you anticipated. Winter is coming.
I sing it all year long. I sing it in those aching times when I just long for His company and His comfort.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel
I could continue but these are the two verses I always pick first. Captivity. Gloom. Death. Shadow. Who is this writer that he would make such a depressing song, 4 lines of “Look at my woe!” Followed by 2 that are just the same over and over. Over and over. Christmas should be hope and joy and love and peace. Who is this writer?
I think, perhaps, the writer is someone who knows the Bible. I think the writer is someone who knows the history of the people of Israel. I think the writer is someone who knows us.
In Matthew 1 starting at verse 18, it reads: “This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).”
Joseph entered what should have been a time of celebration, the advent of his marriage, and he is met quickly by a reality which doesn’t match his expectations. He should have been joyful is instead overwhelmed by mess….divorce, presumed infidelity, shame, scandal, a blow to the pride, and trying to manage himself in a way that was to his standards, legal and upright in the sight of the Lord.
The angel doesn’t come and change the situation. He doesn’t say the pregnancy was a mistake and apologize for Joseph’s hurt feelings. He doesn’t stop what Joesph sees as the problem.
He just changes his perspective.
This mess, says the angel, this thing you see as a problem, it is the design of God to bring the salvation of all. It is the design to bring “God With Us.”
What of your life are you walking into THIS Advent season pleading God to come into? Captivity? Gloom? Death? Shadow?
Could this word not be for you? Could the mess you are consumed by be the design of God to bring about salvation? Change your perspective and like Joseph move in the direction of God’s command.
But changing your perspective is not nearly enough. We must also change our expectations.
We have been trained by Hollywood, like little Susan Walker, to think if we just believe in Santa enough, we will magically get a house far from 34th Street in a nice neighborhood and all will end in true love.
We are looking for the big flashy miracle to prove at Christmas that He does exist. We have been around long enough to know He does big, flashy miracles. We celebrate the biggest each spring. It is the shining moment, the Resurrection, the conquering of the grave, death defeated. Oh, it is glorious! Christmas without Easter, oh it is nothing at all.
So why bother to celebrate Christmas at all then?
Perhaps, just perhaps, it is to remind us, just as the Israelites needed to learn, that God did not come to be an earthly king. He came lowly in a manger. He came into a world without a place for him to be raised by parents who just months before were on the verge of divorce to a government hell bent on murdering Him.
All of this in the arms of Mary, she held this tiny baby. Oh Mary, did you know? When you tipped him towards Joseph to show him this little face, I want to imagine that you had the humanity that I have, tempted to think, “This is it? This is what the angel spoke of? This is who is supposed to save us? A baby? He can’t fed himself or clean himself! How is this going to work?”
Time never turned back. There was no big showy miracle. Just a baby.
I have to ask, are you holding a baby when what you’d really like is for God to show up like Resurrection? Even if you’ve changed your perspective, you’ve said, this mess is blessed, it is of God and I’m consecrating it to Him…are you still walking around looking for the wrong cave? You’ve run inside and there are no discarded grave clothes, just this terrible box with a little baby inside who can’t do anything for Himself.
And you stand there gesturing to this disappointment, eyes upward, and yell, “I didn’t agree to this? I have some suggestions on how to sort this out. Are You listening? WHAT AM I EVEN SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THIS?!?!?”
I’ll tell you. You don’t throw the baby up on the cross! You don’t demand what God is withholding for a later date. You don’t scream for big signs and wonders while you stand before the greatest wonder of them all. You appreciate that in your captivity, your gloom, your death and shadow, oh, He came.
You cradle that baby. You lift it up and you nurture it. You hold it as a precious fragile beginning and do everything you can to protect it. You tip it to others so they might see this sweet thing the Lord has given you even if you have NO IDEA how God will use it.
He came and He stayed and He will come again!
Is it true or is it not?
Is it true?
Or is it not?
If it is not true, than go and find comfort in the fireplace and the family and put your mind to rest that it is of no consequence, now or ever.
But if it is true….if this little baby was born God with us…..If His very nature is the answer to God’s command from the earliest history of man for the conquering of our greatest enemy, that He is with us….oh it is of EVERY consequence. Everything hinges upon it!
Find Christmas, dear one, find Christmas not just where you weren’t looking for it, but find Christmas where you were specifically saying God couldn’t be there.
And find Christmas, my friend, in the little bit of life that hardly fills more than two hands, that can’t support itself, and care for the promise of God that He has already given you to tend to.
Come and worship.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, Oh Israel.