We all know the story.
Jesus was born to a virgin in a manger in a city far from home. The inn was full. The wise men traveled from afar to see the holy child. The star shone brightly and the angels sang. And so it goes.
Whether you believe the story or not, I’m guessing you have plans to celebrate Christmas with food and family and friends this week. And though this season is often good, it can take its toll. We are busy people with long to-do lists and full schedules.
I’ve recently heard and seen many people proposing that the remedy is to slow down during the holidays and ponder the true reason for the season. They suggest that we should step away from the commercialism and commitments and spend time simply in awe of the wonder and beauty of Jesus and his birth. And we should. But we press on, often praying that we can just get through the next week (and pay our credit card bill next month), and we wonder why and where we missed the joy and peace that this season is supposed to bring.
“The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!”*
More than any of the articles I’ve seen about slowing down this season, these words provoke me to adjust my focus. Jesus came as a baby, lowly, born in a barn among livestock in the middle of the night to a no-name Hebrew girl. He didn’t come wielding a sword or to assume a position of political authority. He came quietly and modestly.
The people he came to save had been waiting thousands of years for their promised Savior: several hundred years as slaves in Egypt; forty years of wandering in the desert; lots of waiting and watching and crying out to God for a grand rescue. Before Jesus came, the Hebrew people experienced four hundred years of silence from God. Complete silence. I think it’s safe to assume that they were desperate for a word from the Lord. They had been mistreated for generations and were awaiting their revenge in the form of this Savior, whom God promised and of whom prophets prophesied. They expected him to arrive with pomp and circumstance and power. Then, out of nowhere, Jesus arrived as an infant. And the whole paradigm shifted.
The story doesn’t end there. Jesus spent his time with prostitutes, thieves, and lepers. He opposed the religious leaders and taught obedience to the authorities who had long oppressed the Hebrew people. He spoke of a new covenant and a spiritual kingdom. He did not assume a position of earthly authority, either religious or political. He was not what the people wanted or expected; he was despised by those he came to save.
They wanted justice, he brought peace.
They wanted power, he preached humility.
They wanted revenge, he taught love.
He changed everything.
I can’t help but think that those articles are wrong, telling us that Advent is the time to slow down and reflect on the beauty of Christ. If the Christmas story is true, and I believe it is, shouldn’t it change everything? Shouldn’t our affections and relationships and priorities all be affected by the grace and hope and peace that God brought through Jesus? Shouldn’t we live as people with hope? And not for a few weeks in December, but all year long?
Jesus was and is God’s word to his people: I love you, I have not forgotten you, and I am coming to rescue you. He is our love letter from a God who cares deeply about each of us. We so often think of God as an irritable judge, sitting in heaven waiting for us to screw up so that he can assign us our due punishment. But Jesus disproves that. God chose to send Jesus to walk through our trials alongside us, not condemning us from afar. Because Jesus came, lived, died, and rose again, we have hope for abundant life while we’re here, and not just at Christmas.
If you feel heavy, tired, or numb, remember that Christmas is God’s reminder that he sees you in your hurt and wants to meet you there. If you are waiting for a sign, Christmas is the flashing arrow toward the hope and life we have in and through Jesus. He doesn’t ask us to clean ourselves up before we come to him; he has made a way to come to us. Jesus came to fulfill the law of the Old Testament because the Hebrew people couldn’t do it on their own and neither can we. He came to rescue us from muscling through on our own, or, worse, giving up altogether. He simply invites us to come as we are and to trust him to guide us through it all.
He knows our need. Our weakness is no stranger. In all our trials, he is our friend. My hope is that you and I move into Christmas—and every day— with the knowledge that Jesus is near and waiting for us to choose him every step of the way. He is our only hope.
*Lyrics from “O Holy Night”