Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday in Advent, 20 December 2009. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Micah 5: 2 – 5, Hebrews 10: 5 – 10, and Luke 1: 39 – 45.
These are the final days of Advent. In a few days, it will be Christmas and then the shouting and the preparation will all be over and our attention will turned to the football bowl games, the parties and the New Year. And we will begin to wonder what happened to 2009 and what will happen in 2010.
But that is later in the week; right now we aren’t ready for the coming of Christ. And I wonder if we will ever be ready. The sectarian fundamentalists have already started their cry about the war against Christmas, which I think is sort of funny. For the sectarian fundamentalists, those who so desperately want to keep Christ in Christmas, only offer a vision of the world that favors the rich and the powerful.
And if anything, Christ’s birth was a vision for the forgotten and the weak, the poor and the helpless. How many times is Bethlehem mentioned in the Old Testament? That, of course, is one of the wonderful trick questions because of the Old Testament reading for today. The prophet Micah is the only prophet to speak of Bethlehem as the birthplace for Jesus.
Now, if we are to accept the view of the secular fundamentalists, Christmas is an attempt by the church to co-opt pagan winter solstice holidays. To some extent, they are correct; because the evidence provided in the Gospels suggests that Jesus was born in the spring. But it would be rather difficult to celebrate the birth of Christ in the spring when we are preparing for Easter. Can you imagine what it would be like if, because of the formulation for the observance and celebration of Easter, Christmas and Easter were on the same day? It is bad enough when the 4th Sunday in Advent is also Christmas Eve (as it was three years ago).
It doesn’t bother me that Christmas was placed on the calendar to coincide with various winter pagan ceremonies. Christmas is that single moment of hope in a world of darkness. And the one thing that the secular fundamentalists with all their cries about the mythology and falseness of religion cannot offer is a hope for the future. You can place your hope in the material goods but if you are poor or sick or homeless or oppressed, it is very difficult to do so. The world is against you from the very start and you don’t want to hear some pompous atheist telling you there is no god; because he or she cannot offer you the hope that was offered two thousand years ago.
The problem for many people is that Christmas is not a time of joy. The darkness of the season hides the darkness that lies within their soul. This is the time that many counselors and psychologists probably fear because it is the time that everyone’s fears and troubles come out. And all the talk about economic rebuilding and gift giving and love and happiness found in sales merely accentuates those fears and troubles.
I understand those fears for I have had to deal with too many of them. And I know that it was because of the hope and promise that Christmas brings that I have been able to get through these dark times.
And when someone says that this is all a myth, I wonder how it has come that we are still celebrating it today. If it didn’t happen, how did we get to this point?
Secular fundamentalists cannot offer hope to the people and seek to use the actions of the sectarian fundamentalists for their justification in saying that there is no god and that Christ is a myth. By the same token, as much as the sectarian fundamentalists want Christmas to be the center piece of the “prosperity gospel” and as much as they want the Bible to be the justification for capitalism (as well as slavery and the subjugation of women and others), they too have taken the hope and promise out of Christmas as well.
Both sides have sought to make the Bible what is not and what it was never meant to be. It is not a history book; it most certainly is not a science book. Yes, it is full of contradictions but, then again, so is mankind full of contradictions. The Bible is a story about who we are as a people; it is about our journey. It is a journey that is told through the eyes of history and so it is a story about people. It is a story about friendships and relationships (good and bad); it is a story about the balance in society and how, when the balance has been upset, God through Christ has sought to restore that balance.
We live in a time when peace is measured by victory in war. We occupy a foreign land and call it liberation. We worship Mars, the Roman God of war and call it peace. But such peace comes with destruction and desolation. Our young die in lands far from home and yet we call for celebration and rejoicing, not solace and comfort for the families.
And in a small town, mentioned only once, will the true Prince of Peace come, born neither to kings and royalty nor to the rich and powerful but to the lowly and the meek. And we shall deny this King, just as those two thousand years ago.
The writer of Hebrews points out that all that we have done in the name of Christ has been futile, just as the sacrifices made at the Temple two thousand years ago were often falsely done. We have transformed the babe in the manger into a corporate identity, useful for selling things and creating divisions in the land.
For some these are the final days; the days when the world will come to an end and they and they alone will be taken up into heaven on the wings of angels. But they, like so many others, will be surprised when it is they, the self-righteous and condemning people are left behind and they see the poor, the meek, the lowly, the forgotten, and the oppressed being welcomed by the Savior.
Yes, these are the final days. These are the days when the voice is heard crying out in the wilderness, telling us to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Even the young Baptizer, still in the womb, could feel the presence of his cousin, the baby Jesus. There is time to repent and begin anew. There is time but time moves quickly when you aren’t prepared. We have had three weeks and are now in the fourth week.
In the darkest part of the year, a child will be born. And this child will bring promise and hope. The season of Advent was meant to prepare us for that moment. These are the final days; people get ready for Christ shall be born among you and for you and to lead you.