This past Sunday began the season of Advent when, according to the Western Christian calendar, we begin the wait and expectation of the coming Savior, born Jesus of Nazareth.
I love this season because I love the stories of Jesus’ birth as told in scripture. Just as with the death and resurrection of Jesus, there’s something captivating about the stories of Jesus’ birth. They don’t grow old. As I read the stories and listen to the great hymns that retell of this great event, my heart is stirred to praise God and I want to be a better disciple of Jesus because I know that the story being told is one that God has made me a part of too.
But I’m troubled too. Today marks 15 years to the day when my family learned that my dad had stage 4 pancreatic cancer and would not live very much longer. It took less than two months for cancer to complete the slaying of his body. Since then, death has continued to become a part of my story because. As most who know me are aware of, my wife and I had a son (Kenny) who died as an infant in 2002. Then just a few days after Christmas of 2003, my younger brother John unexpectedly died. So when I travel home for the holidays, as my family will do this year, there is a sadness that I carry with me.
“But” the preacher and quasi-theologian in me objects. “Isn’t this event called Christmas for which we celebrate the coming of our Savior supposed to be a glorious event, filled with peace, moving us to sing ‘Joy to the world, the Lord is come…’?”
Of course it is! It is the same reason why the host of angels appeared, praising God, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2.14, NIV ’11).
“But” the pastor in me, with my own lament, objects. “How can their be peace when…?” I’m sure that’s a question that many parents in Bethlehem were asking after a very jealous and corrupt King Herod ordered the unthinkable (cf. Matt 2.16-18).
This is a question I’ve wrestled with. It seems so incongruous to speak of peace when there is so much suffering and turmoil that still exists in our world…suffering and turmoil which still causes great grief and pain. But as I wrestle with this question, a question that Advent thrusts upon me, I am drawn back to the larger story of God.
The coming of Jesus wasn’t an event that existentially ended all pain, evil, and suffering at once. The coming of Jesus was the event in which God became a part of our story making us a part of his story. It was the event in which God embraced the pain, evil and suffering of our world so that we could ultimately share in the peace of God, that peace which was present at the genesis of creation and is present in the new creation in Christ.
The angels came praising God with a proclamation of his glory and peace not because everything was and is at peace but because the birth of Jesus was God at work. In the coming of the Lord and Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, God was at work revealing his glory and peace.
The question of Advent is answered by the recognition that God is at work. Though trouble still is, the glory of God is being revealed, his peace is among us. It is a promise that, in the words of N.T. Wright, the world is being put to rights. So we too can join the angels in praise, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rest.”