Somewhere in the Judean countryside lived a couple. They were devout, people of Yahweh. For as long as they could remember, stories of a future deliverance from the powers of this world were told with great expectation.
However, these stories were beginning to grow old. Pipe dreams, they thought. They kept telling the stories and singing the songs, but the anger and disappointment lingered.
It had been many years since the strange light in the sky had appeared, stoking the best flames of expectation seen since the times of the prophets, when the words of God appeared at regular intervals, announcing Good News of salvation.
The light disappeared, and life happened. Tragic, death filled life.
Three decades and countless sleepless nights later, rumors began to trickle into their little town. There was a man, and he was preaching things. Familiar things, yes, but also new things. The words he spoke echoed those of the prophets, but they were laced with a new and very present sense of urgency, of...Now. It was said he spoke the words of Isaiah in his hometown. In other places there were stories of healing.
Yet the thing that caused the most chatter and the most curiosity was all the talk of a New Kingdom.
As the stories ceased being small talk about this crazy character roaming the countryside and grew exponentially into stories of hope and belief and expectation, this couple had one question for those running into town to spread the news.
"How old is he?" They would ask.
Not seeing the relevance of this question, the bearer of the news would continue to tell stories of how he spoke to the Pharisees on the Sabbath and of how a young girl, pronounced dead, had been brought back to life.
"How old is he?"
"A man’s hand was shriveled, but it was made whole again."
The news bearer didn’t feel the old gentleman with the tired eyes, and his wife standing behind him, truly felt the magnitude of what was going on. He looked at them in disbelief at their disbelief. "He's speaking of deliverance, of setting us free."
Angered, the husband grabbed his old friend by his tunic, pulled him close, and insisted, "How old is he?"
In a moment, all was made clear. Slow recognition appeared on the face of the news bearer. He remembered the pain. It was not a pain unique to this couple. It was a pain felt by many of the same age as them. It was the pain of a lifetime of loss.
"I don’t know," he stuttered. Then, quietly and with the hurt of remembrance in his voice, "About 32, 33?"
They were all brought back to that night many years ago. Coming home from evening shared with friends, wondering aloud to each other what the light in the sky might mean, they heard the distant sounds of an army of hoof beats. They went into their houses, blew out the lights illuminating the darkness, and waited.
The soldiers arrived with ferocity. Brutality. Quickness.
The sun arose and the people finally braved coming out into the street. Dust was still floating down. Trickles of blood could be seen on a smattering of doorsteps.
And slowly, the parents of the deceased began carrying lifeless bodies, wrapped in swaddling clothes, out of the house, and toward the burial places. Looking around at the parents, knowledge slowly began to seep into the eyes of everyone in the community.
These were the parents of all the newborn boys.
It was months before they found out why. A jealous king intercepted the men from the east, following the light. They told him of a newborn king. He would have none of it, and their lives would be changed for ever.
These parents slowly returned to work. As much as was possible, life began to seep back into their pores. Yet in many ways they were irreparably crippled. Bound with the disappointment of what could have been, but what was never to be.
And now, here is a man, and he is the age their sons would have been.
What do we make of this? For these families, there was never again to be a silent night. In a roundabout way, their lives were ruined because of Jesus. And not in a Shane Clairborne, Jesus wrecked my life because I can’t get over his social-justice-teaching sort of way. The arrival of Jesus quite literally wrecked their lives.
In Advent, we wait for the arrival of Jesus, Our King. We are reminded of the wreckage, of the death and disappointment and the lifetime of tragic memory we are forced to endure. And we watch, over the horizon, for the light. We stand in solidarity with everyone experiencing the human condition, which IS everyone, and is the condition of totally helplessness, without God and without hope. We live in fear of the hoof beats, but armed with remembrance of the angels’ pronouncements, to the shepherds and to the wise men and to the women at the empty tomb, we see past the coming destruction to a Kingdom without fear, without disappointment, and without death.