In the lead up to Christmas I have been feeling a bit uneasy about the whole Christmas celebration thing. Perhaps it’s because we are so far away from family; or perhaps it’s because we are in the middle of summer here in New Zealand; or perhaps it’s because it’s the end of what has felt like a long heard year. But perhaps it’s something more.
In the news we have recently been confronted with the harsh reality of our world. A few weeks back we had the situation in Gaza which just reminded us of the complexity of that situation – the state of Israel against the Palestinian people; one side seeking security and the other side seeking justice. But neither side experiencing peace. And then, over the past week or so, the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut – 20 school children and 6 school staff.
Last weekend my family and I gathered with nearly 10,000 people at the Vector Arena to participate in the Glow carol service put on by St. Paul’s Anglican Church for the people of Auckland. It was an incredible event: an amazing colourful event (each person had a glow stick with different colours) with great music, adult and children’s choirs, and carols. All of this to celebrate the coming of “the new born King”. And I was this, twirling my glow stick as enthusiastic as anyone.
But what moved me most was a video. A film crew from St Paul’s went to Bethlehem to do some interviewing in the town of Bethlehem itself. This was not the romantic version of Bethlehem we find of Christmas cards. This was the reality of people’s lives; a hard realty, not unlike the realty that Jesus entered into 2000 years ago.
It was the video that brought home to me the need to bring together the reality of Incarnation and the realities of our world. So much of our Christian celebrating seems to disconnect the two. It’s like we use these Christmas celebrations to escape the sometimes difficult realities of life – the tinsel, the colours, the romantic images of the stable with the mystical light shining on it, the carols we love so well, allow us to escape the stuff that we don’t want to face up to – globally and in our own lives.
But the Christmas story is about a God who enters in to our reality. The Word becomes flesh and moves into our neighbourhood (as Eugene Peterson translates John 1:14). In this story, this central truth of the Christian faith, we have the coming together of God’s reality and ours. Jesus, the one who brings salvation, submits himself to our reality, born into the ordinariness of his day – violence, military oppression and becoming a refugee.
Here’s the video…
The good news of Jesus Christ cannot allow us to escape the realities of our world and even our own lives. If it does, then all we will be left with inauthenticity – a shallow faith and shallow lives. But yet, I often feel that this is what we do at church on a Sunday in our search for some kind of “worship high”. We don’t like living in the tension.
And we don’t like waiting, which is why most of our evangelical churches are uncomfortable with practising “Advent” – the 4 week period of “waiting” before Christmas itself. We rush too quickly to celebration. I don’t want to sing “Yeah Lord we greet thee born this happy morning” too soon. But this practice of Advent waiting allows us to stop and name the sin which in our own lives and in the world – whether the realities of current day Bethlehem or the realities of our lives. And then we are able to voice our cry, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel”. It is here that the connection takes place. It is here we need our imaginations renewed.
A few days ago I stumbled across a video on youtube – images from the shooting at Newtown, Connecticut set alongside images of the nativity set Rosie Thomas’ amazing rendition “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The video captures the connection I’m taking about and portrays this sense of waiting in the midst of human pain and tragedy for God’s salvation and redemption.
In the Incarnation we meet a God who enters in to our reality. Christianity therefore, does not offer an escape from reality of this world. It doesn’t allow us to ignore. It doesn’t allow us to whitewash over. Instead, as Christians, we enter in to our world with Jesus Christ who has gone before us – without fear and with a sense of hope. But not a fairy tale hope. Instead, a hope that yearns for God’s kingdom to come, and his will to be done on earth as its is in heaven. And a hope that ultimately takes us to the cross.
Here is the Rosie Thomas video…