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ADVENTures Before Christmas, Week 4

Each week of Advent has a number of symbolisms, and the following table is now filled completely.

Journey on a Donkey
Isaiah/OT Prophets
John the Baptist

In the first week, we looked at suffering/penitence and its relationship to expectation and hope. The second week looked at how the solid promises of God through Christ gave peace even in the midst of trials and suffering. Historically, for reasons given last week, the third week of Advent turned a corner into increasing joy and eager anticipation as the Day of Christ drew nearer, and we looked at the traditions of gift giving. The fourth week is the rising to the crescendo of Christmas Eve and Christmas itself. This year, Advent is a full five weeks long—the longest possible, as Christmas itself is on a Sunday.

There is so much to talk about here that it is hard to pick a topic.
Volumes have been written and sung about angels. We seem to be fascinated with their mystery and power. They have become rather popular in recent years, even to the point of idolatry, as people see them as more approachable than God Himself, and see them without all of the repentance and holiness ‘baggage’ that dealing directly with God implies. These folks are woefully mistaken as true angels are horrified and quickly bid people cease and desist when humans bow before them, stating that God alone is worthy of worship. Further, angels (literally ‘messengers’ in the Greek) spend much of their time proclaiming the message of God’s holiness, and so seeing them as ‘safe’ alternatives to God is missing the point at best. No, angel adoration and worship is just a flat out bad idea from the get go.

Also, much ink has been spilled about Mary, the teenage girl who finds herself the mother of God’s incarnation and “blessed above all women.” It is no accident, I am sure, that God works through Mary as a redemptive act for women to lift them above the shame of Eve’s gullibility. God is always specific about His punishments and restorations, so if He cursed Eve and all women through her, then He will restore their dignity and joint inheritance with the fellas by exalting Mary. However, as we are wont to do, some have taken it too far, using Mary as an open door to insinuate goddess worship into Christianity. This is also a bad idea. She was human and only human, and Scripture makes this clear by relegating her to a relatively minor, and sometimes slightly adversarial role once Christ starts His ministry, and she disappears after the crucifixion. She is to be honored, much as we would Susan B. Anthony or George Washington, but not much more.

We can talk about the fulfillment of many prophecies that Christmas brought and heralded many others soon to be fulfilled. This is no minor matter. If God is to be believed in His claims of divinity, omniscience and omnipotence, then His knowing the future and having it actually occur are rather critical factors. God made many promises to His people, and this is the beginning of the delivery on those promises. We can have faith today that Christ will come again and make everything right in the world only because God made promises in the past, and brought them to fulfillment, even over centuries and millennia, as He first promised the arrival of the Messiah directly to Eve in the Garden after her shame. The fulfillment message of Advent is no mere convenient afterthought, but a central part of our celebration.

Finally, we all talk about love, and in particular, God’s love, at Christmas:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16), and “Peace on Earth, and Goodwill toward Men, with whom He is well-pleased!” shouted and sung the angels to the shepherds in Luke’s account of Christ’s birth.

As I’ve written several times previously, even recently, we need to understand God’s love in the context of His holiness. True love must say hard things and cannot be afraid to do so. When we talk of God’s love at Christmas, it is evidenced by the very Presence of the Incarnate. There is no bigger, more central reason for the incarnation than to satisfy God’s holy requirements for the wages of our sin. We simply cannot have Christmas without that glorious horrible spectre of the cross shadowing the manger. In fact, some have commented that the stable in which Christ was born was not some wooden structure, but likely a cave, and thus the borrowed cave stable from which Christ appeared was a foreshadowing of the borrowed cave tomb from which the Risen Christ would reappear. (While this may seem like an aftermarket literary device added on by scholars, God explicitly uses symbols and layers of symbols through material things and actual events to drive home most of the spiritual truths He wants us to really get. We learn deep truths best through stories, and so it is only logical that God would infuse His Creation and interactions with us with literary devices, so we would be hard pressed to miss the big picture.)

Even so, there is a joyous surprise in the angels’ announcement to the shepherds that night—“Peace” and “Goodwill,” “Well-pleased.” It is actually rather startling that they would say He was well-pleased with humanity—just look at the problems going on—the political/military oppression of Rome, the religious oppression of the Pharisees…and that was just in Palestine, much less the entire planet! Yet, He is well-pleased. Even though He knew what would happen just 33 years later at the hands of the recipients of this gift. Yet, He is well-pleased. It doesn’t make any sense…until you watch parents on Christmas morning.

The kids wake the parents up early in their eagerness to open presents. They are so eager they trip over each other racing to the gifts, nearly knocking over the tree and fragile decorations in the process. They won’t let the parents even brew the coffee first. Yet, watch the parents hold their breath as the children pick up those packages they so carefully chose and wrapped. There is a pent-up excitement waiting for the joy in the eyes and the thrill of the delighted shrieks as the disintegrating paper reveals the gift. Yes, the parent is well pleased with his children at that moment. Momma knows the toy will be broken and/or forgotten in a week, or the shirt will soon have mud and/or chocolate stains. Yet, in that moment, there is peace and goodwill, and Dad is well-pleased. That is the love of Christmas.

On the fourth Sunday in Advent
             Light all the purple candles
             Read Isaiah 9:6-7
             Pray something like this:
Lord God, we light this candle to thank you for your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who is the Prince of Peace. We who live in discord and strife have found peace in the promise of eternal life, through Jesus Christ. We give you thanks and praise in Jesus' name, because he lives and reigns with you in your glory, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Lagniappe:  A beautiful look at Joseph’s perspective can be found in the Joseph Trilogy, a 3-part blog.


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