Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Advent and Christmas: It's Not Just for Kids

Have you been around a while?   Have you seen both good and bad in the world?   Does it seem that the changes in the world seem to be leaving you behind?  Do you feel more isolated from others as time goes by?  Then perhaps the story of the coming of Jesus in Luke is just what you need to hear this season.

The Cultural Christmas 

In our culture, Christmas is supposed to be about the kids.   The common view is it is all about presents wrapped under the tree.  The family in well decorated home all gathered watching the children joyfully experience the grace of their parents, grandparents and extended family and friendships.  Much of the media we will view this season will be that that refers back to a lost mythic childhood.  From the old Christmas specials from the 1960's like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer, to the comedies of the 1980's and 90's such as A Christmas Story and Home Alone,  kids take center stage.  The adults are the comic foil to the bright shining youthful main character (usually a blonde boy between the ages of 8-10).  The adults are portrayed mostly as clueless or or even evil.  As an old dude, this is not good news for me for obvious reasons.  By the way, neither was it when I myself was a young blonde boy 8-10 years old.  My memories of that time revolve mostly around beloved family members blaming me for ruining the perfect Christmas.   Our cultural Christmas celebrations can be fun, entertaining, and yes profitable. However the real Christmas story found in Luke's Gospel is something more.  It is trans-formative, life-giving, and most of all hopeful. 

The Biblical Advent and Incarnation 

In contrast to our cultural orientation, the biblical story of the coming and infancy of Jesus according to Luke is a lot about older people.   In Chapter 1, we first meet Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older couple, who like Abraham and Sarah are waiting for their first child.   Near the conclusion of Luke 2 at the end of the story, we meet Simeon and Anna, two older, possibly lonely people.  They are portrayed as those who go to the temple on their own each day and wait in prayer to see what God does.   For Luke, these older folks who have remained steadfast despite the ups and downs of life are at the core of the story.   They serve to remind us that God does answer prayer, works miracles, and most of gives reason for hope through the sending of his Son Jesus.  God comes to the aid for those who have been beaten down by the pressure of living in a sinful world. They are those who have their hope fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah.

By the time of Jesus birth, Zachariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna would have witnessed, heard of, and experienced the brutality of living in a country occupied by foreign power and given over to the murderous sycophant puppet rule of Herod the (so called) Great.  They would have been privy to dramatic outrages and everyday slights.  It would have been enough for any person to give up and give in, but they didn't.  They kept the faith.  The words about Simeon are particularly powerful.   "He was waiting for the consolation of Israel" writes Luke. 

Luke affirms not only their hope, but their dignity as well.  For they are not mere victims to be rescued, God actually calls them to play a part in the salvation drama.  Zachariah and Elizabeth shelter the unwed probably teenage mother Mary from the tyranny of being the center of scandal in a small town.  Simeon and Anna help affirm the dignity of the Holy Family as they assist them in following the rituals of their faith community.  The older folks in Luke are part of the story; it is an affirmation of their value before God.  In a youth obsessed culture like ours, where everyone is supposed to look 25, this is certainly good news. 

The People of God 

I meet people like Zachariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna all the time in my ministry.   I meet people who though they have experienced hardship and even tragedy, keep the faith and are part of the story of God at work in our world today.   They hold on to hope despite the evidence they read of in their newspaper or news-feed.  You will meet these people volunteering to feed the homeless, working the polls on election day, babysitting their grand-kids, checking up on their neighbors and  yes, keeping our communities of faith running.  I hate to break it to you, but God did not send his son to bring your child the hot toy for Christmas,  God did this to validate the hope that people like Zachariah, Elizabeth, Simeon,  and Anna (maybe even you?) who have placed their trust in Him. 

Right now, there is much going on that can serve to erode our hope.  I need not catalog it, for you probably have experienced some of it or know of it.  But the story we proclaim every December in the church during Advent is that we have a God who is worth waiting for.  So perhaps with Simeon we too can confess these words:

By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us, 
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, 
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79 (NRSV)

No matter what your age, I pray that the dawn from on high will break upon your life this Advent.  I hope that you too may be able to place your trust in God and become part of God's story for our time. For the story of Christ can give hope to people of any age.  Indeed, people of all ages can be part of this story, because the Bible shows us that they have been in it all along.

Be blessed