I suffer from an affliction, and I don’t know how many of you can empathize. So often in life I rent a movie, and it turns out to be really bad, really lame, but I must watch it all the way thru. It is monumentally difficult for me to stop a movie part way thru. This has lead me to see a lot of sorry movies, in their totality.
I have also seen some movies that began pretty slow, but around the midway point starting heating up and got good. And I was glad for the inability to walk away at the rough start.
The story of Jesus isn’t like that. From the beginning, things are happening and people are popping up that demand our attention and warrant our sticking around to see where this thing goes.
Think for a moment with me of the way this the story begins to unfold…
⊕ Zechariah and Elizabeth, barren, visited by an angel, and conceiving a son. John is their son, who would be known as the Baptizer, the forerunner who would lay the finishing touches for the arrival of his cousin.
⊕ Of course, there’s Mary and Joseph, engaged, visited by angles, unexpectedly and seemingly miraculously pregnant, caught up in a sudden political necessity that sets them on the road for Bethlehem on the eve of her delivery… Bethlehem, the town of prophecy, a humble place, and yet a place where the prophets of old had pointed and said, “Watch.”
⊕ Jesus is born and more angles appear, gathering some shepherds from the fields to come and bear witness. I’m comforted folks, that these shepherds are called to witness… we aren’t told they’re in the line of kings, they aren’t priests, they’re humble shepherds. If they can be called to bear witness, then I know that I can be as well.
⊕ As an infant Jesus is taken to the Temple and there awaits Simeon the Prophet who raises Jesus and proclaims to God, “I have seen your salvation!” And then there’s Anna, the sweet widow Anna, who praises God at the sight of Jesus and picks up where the angels with the shepherds left off, telling everyone she sees, “Jesus is here.”
⊕ But, we’re not done yet, because some wise men of the East still have to drop in looking for this child, the new king of the Jews. They had seen his star in sky… the arrival of Jesus being what it was, an announcement seemed to be placed in the sky for those able to read it, and follow the directions, even from far away.
⊕ And the arrival of the wise men leads to a dramatic escape to Egypt for the family of Jesus, fleeing the murderous wrath of the petty King Herod who could not stomach the idea that prophecy and events were coming together to announce such an arrival.
No, this story starts off running and soon careens into the political and religious maelstrom of the day. And we find more and more characters along the way, who like the humble shepherds, invite us into the story with their authenticity and honesty. One of my favorites is the man in Mark 9, when a father brings a son to Jesus and his followers for healing… and ends up in a fascinating conversation with Jesus… Mark 9::14-29. When a story like this one starts rolling in such a fashion, it’s hard to not be a little overwhelmed. And I relate to a parent who believes that going to Jesus is the right move, but there’s still room for growing that belief! It’s an expression of humility and inadequacy when caught up in a compelling story that feels just too good to flip channels and look away.
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed,
‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’”
I love the season of Advent. We need to start again each year, returning to the beginning of this story, the conflict, the miraculous, the hopes and machinations of both God and humanity. It becomes for us a needed anchor, a place to remember the belief of a previous year and the need for even more belief in the year that waits to begin.
My prayer for this Advent Season, for myself and for this church family, is to humbly join that father in Mark 9, “We do believe, help us in our unbelief!”
I have enjoyed the writings of a very smart lady named Marva Dawn, and in a book she co-wrote with Eugene Peterson she penned these simple but true words, “You cannot help but be disillusioned if only Santa Claus come to your house. But if the one you yearn for is the Christ Child, you will never be disappointed, for he always comes.”
So, welcome to Advent.