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The Jews were living in some dark days at Jesus’ first advent. God had been silent, Rome was oppressing and Herod was cruel. The people were also living in the spiritual darkness of rampant sin. And yet with the promise of the forerunner and the miraculous nature surrounding his birth, the day was starting to dawn, the light was about to break and with this came a certain hope, a longing returned as the Messianic promises were being renewed in the minds and hearts of the people.

Friends, may this be us this Christmas season. For it could easily be said that we too live in difficult, even dark times. Though Covid is not quite what it was last year or the year before, it’s still a concern for some. Our political landscape is such that we live in a fiercely divided country. Crime and violence is rampant. Shootings happen with regularity. Though we’ve had some victories, babies are still being slaughtered, there is much confusion about what it means to be male or female, and the idea of a Biblical family is all but extinct. The sexual revolution has taken us places we never thought we’d see, societal wokeness abounds, and the economy is not in the greatest of shape. Of course, we can't forget the trials, difficulties, and losses that many of us our in the midst of. To top it off, it would seem that Christianity is on the world’s chopping block.

As we asked last week, “Where is the hope?”

A couple of years ago I read an article that still rings true today called “How To Do Advent When Nothing Seems Worth Celebrating by Chris Pappalardo for Christianity Today, where he asks the question, “What place does a quiet liturgy (customary observance) of Advent have in such a chaotic, turbulent world?”  His bi-line: “Our Immanuel doesn’t offer us an escape. He comes to suffer with us.” 

Think about it friends, God doesn’t promise an escape from the difficulties of these last few years any more than He offered an escape to the 1st century Jew or Gentile. What He does promise is that as Immanuel, He will be with us, He will walk with us, He will suffer with us.

The author writes, “Contrary to the Hallmark myth, Christmas is not a season of good vibes and tasty treats (though I’m down for both). The context of Christmas is injustice and death—and it has been from the very beginning.” Consider too what would almost immediately follow the birth of Jesus - the slaughter of many infant boys in Herod’s attempt to kill Jesus.  The first Christmas was in the midst of some very dark days. The author continues, “Christmas commemorates the moment when God entered into our story in flesh and blood. He entered in the middle of the story, in the midst of injustice and death. This is good news for us, especially when we’re living a story of injustice and death, too.”

He continues, “Advent isn’t about an escape from the darkness of the world into a false bastion of tranquility. Advent is a discipline that trains us to experience longing, just as the Jews did before Jesus’ birth. Without this sense of real longing, Christmas offers no sense of real hope. And if we already sense longing for healing and lament over injustice, we are that much closer to the spirit of Advent than we first thought.  One day, God will end all injustice and death. But Christmas reminds us that God’s first step in ending injustice and death was to submit himself to injustice and death.

“Many of us enter Advent this year crying out, “How long, O Lord?” We can be comforted knowing that we do not cry alone…we cry with Jesus himself, who enters our suffering. He entered it then—poor in birth, persecuted in life, scorned in death.He enters it with us today as Immanuel, “God with us.” So even as we weep, we do so with a thrill of hope. Hope does not stop our tears; hope gives them meaning. Hope does not remove our longing; in Christ, hope redirects it. That which we long for—justice, wholeness, healing—has a name. His name is Jesus, and He is near to the brokenhearted.” 

Friends, as we celebrate the Christmas season, may we not do so by looking for some kind of escape from all that grieves us, but rather may we celebrate the birth of our Savior and anticipate Christmas with a hope-filled longing of “God with us,” now and forever more.

Read the referenced article here.

Listen or watch the full sermon, "Promises to Zacharias & Elizabeth" here