Artist: Scott Erickson
One of the wonders of the Christmas story is its context. The backdrop of the advent is misery, pain, occupation, and violence. The events are laced with fear. We forget this in our rush to ‘hallmark’ Christmas into a feel-good buffet. We want desperately for Christmas to be a hot chocolate sipping, gift-giving, positive vibes, family cheer kind of affair. But it’s important to pay attention. It is no mistake. The backdrop of the events around Jesus coming to this world are a central part of the story.
The scriptures say that ‘at just the right time,’ Jesus arrived on the scene. And that right time was in the middle of a desperate occupation - 400 years after the last prophetic word to a people who were normalized in their own oppression. A time where kings were tyrants and religious leaders, politicians, and people were just trying to survive. Hope was a faint glimmer at best, and dreams of ‘saving’ had been snuffed out long ago in most people’s everyday life.
Was that the right time?
I think so.
Some scriptures that hint at this kind of backdrop for the announcement of Jesus are from Isaiah: "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light". Is there any better way to emphasize the light than in the darkest of nights?
The part of the Christmas story that gets missed almost every single year is the part where Herod orders that every male infant be slaughtered after he learns about the prophecy of the birth of the King of the Jews. There was great weeping in the town where Jesus was born. Great weeping, indeed. Death, violence, oppression, tyranny, injustice, and pain. Lots and lots of pain.
And in missing this essential part of the story we often miss the best parts, too. We miss it because we think that the good news is only good if it changes our circumstances, or if it is packaged in ribbons and bows, or if it is easy to swallow and simple to understand. But it isn’t. The good news comes to us in the form of God’s presence RIGHT SMACK IN THE MIDDLE of the muck and the mire. In those very circumstances of grief and pain and hardship that we can NEVER understand or reconcile is where Jesus first arrived in human flesh and is still arriving now. God with us.
You bear it WITH CHRIST. You invite the Jesus of Nazareth who chose that exact time in history to choose this exact time in our history to come to us—to dwell with us—to weep with us—to be. With. Us.