Sunday, December 23, 2007

Advent, the final days...

Years ago I read Phillip Yancey's The Jesus I Never Knew, and it convinced me that the Hallmark version of the Christmas story we have all grown accustomed to is a little more sterile, and a little less chaotic and frightening than the accounts found in the gospels. An unwanted pregnancy, strange appearances of beings and light, and homelessness all combined for a messy series of events.

Yet I can't help but believe that for at least a few moments that night, as Mary recovered from the labor and Joseph took a break from all the logistical planning that went into raising the Son of God, there was peace. Calm. An assurance that God is most definitely with us.

An this, to me, is the great story of Christmas that we so desperately need every day of the year. The stories of the Exodus speak of a God that delivers. Revelation lets us know that God will make all things right. The epistles tell us that God's way to live is the absolute best way. But a young couple out in a field, watching the one-who-had-been-longed for sigh as he closed his eyes for his first experience of sleep, this tells of a God that is near. A God that, indeed, is with us.

If you happen to read this in the midst of time spent with your loved ones, I tell you, Merry Christmas. May we celebrate the presence of God in our midst by being fully present in the midst of each other.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Advent, Days Seventeen and Eighteen...

Peace is a Top Five Christmas word. Yet peace eludes us, even now. Crime, wars, and disease threaten our very being. Yet peace must be more than an absence of these things. It's a little naive' for someone who is against our wars to demand peace. Don't get me wrong, a world without violence would be infinitely better than a world with it. But was Iraq at peace before we invaded? Will it be at peace when we leave?

And how about us? We live in a relatively safe world. Terrorism, crime, and the threat of deadly accidents occupy a minute portion of thought space, but does this put us at peace?

In Luke 2 the angel sang "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth...peace."

Just ten chapters later Luke records the words of Jesus... "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, but division."

This tells me that the waters of peace are deeper and more treacherous than what we originally thought.

Yet still, we pray for peace, we pray the child sleeping in the night may just yet bring us goodness and light.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Advent, Day Sixteen...

There are some things about the holiday season that I have missed since going to a more nontraditional church.

Four words: Hanging of the Green.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Advent, Day Fifteen...

For all the joy associated with Christmas, there's a requisite light melancholy floating throughout the songs and stories. It's an interesting dissonance. I listen to some versions of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and hear within the melody and lyrics a sadness. Maybe it's a recognition of some kind, that while we wait for the Great Arrival, we often wait in the midst of loneliness.

For me, I often feel Christmas the most walking downtown Waco in the cold of night. There really are few places I know more conducive to realizing the desolate state we are in. For all the life going on around the Austin Avenue area, when the sun goes down, the emptiness arrives. With hands in pockets, eyes gazing forward at vacant structures, and the chill slapping my ears, I'm strolling down a metaphor for my life, and the life of the entire created order. A place that once was, and can be again.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Advent, Day Fourteen...

Over the years there have been a number of replacements when The Great Christian Worship Superstar David Crowder can't make it to church. From time to time the guys and gal from Mosaic down in Austin make it up to UBC. I'll be honest, besides being about the biggest Erin Davis fan around, (Erin plays the cello and saw-- yes, saw-- and is one of the coolest people I've ever had the of knowing,) it's hard for me to get into their music. It's a little too Austin Cool for my ClearChannel ears.

But today they gave me one of those musical experiences that you probably only get a handful of times in your life. Which is to say, they sang a song I've heard and sang numerous of times in my life, but it was as if I were hearing it for the first time. And I'm not just talking about the changes in phrasing and melody. I heard an entirely different song.

Who knew "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" so so powerful? Seth said he sang it like he thought Dylan would sing it. When it was over, I seriously wanted to say "Amen," but I was afraid people may think I was joking.

"For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing."

Since the evangelical world has begun to slowly embrace Advent, I think we've done a great job with anticipating the celebration of the first arrival of Jesus, while giving a slight head nod to the fact that we are also looking forward to the second arrival. A baby in a manger is a little more fun to think about than the destruction of this world and the coming of our King. I guess, though, this all depends on who you are.

I really have no more thoughts on this, other than that if you haven't read Leif Enger's Peace Like A River, then you need to. When hearing the song this morning, where it spoke of the day when all the world will echo back the songs of the Christmas angels, a description of heaven in Enger's book was about all I could think about...

"Is it fair to say that country is more real than ours? That its stone is harder, its water more drenching — that the weather itself is alert and not just background? Can you endure a witness to its tactile presence?"

Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent, Days Twelve and Thirteen...

I'm taking a two day break from my advents posts. Hope you have been enjoying them. Tomorrow I have the honor of officiating the wedding of my close friends Britt and Holly Duke, so I'm going to dedicate the weekend to that.

But you can talk amongst yourselves. In light of Josh's most recent post, share your favorite all time Christmas movies. I'll give my top three...

3. Love, Actually. I actually love this movie a lot. It reminds me that there are moments of grace waiting to happen all around, if you just look for them.

2. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. "Sometimes I think all that Santa crap's just bull. If he was so real, how come we didn't get squat last year? We didn't do nothin wrong, and we still got the shaft." Enough said.

1. A Christmas Story. I saw this with my third grade Sunday School class at the theater in Tyler after church. I think one of the reason's guys love this so much, at least for me, is the scene where Ralphie beats the living crap out of Scott Fargas. We all had our own Scott Fargas' in our mind.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Advent, Day Eleven...

The 1970's landed in East Texas sometime around 1982. It was around this time that the Nash family of Neches Street found themselves the proud owners of a brand new aluminum Christmas tree. That's right, we were groovy. This tree consisted of a metal pole (festivus, anyone?) with tiny holes to hold in place the tinsel-laden silver and shiny branches. And if you are wondering, the answer is yes-- We had a color wheel. This fine piece of artistic machinery had a large light bulb illuminating a plastic rotating disk with all the primary colors. Drivers by would do a double take-- "Look at the pretty blue aluminum tree! Uh...wait...hold on...IT'S NOW RED!" It is all true. What is now kitsch was once a part of the fabric of my holidays.

I actually feel kind of sinfully prideful that many of you have no clue what I'm talking about.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Advent, Day Ten...

I'm waiting. For what, I'm not quite sure. I suspect at times my waiting is more for that Christmas feeling from the past than for a savior that that has come to redeem my broken life.

Regardless, the candles keep being lit and, before you know it, the dawn will have arrived. Selfish and emotional motives will be blinded by a celebratory light that will continue forever.

Come, Lord Jesus...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Advent, Day Nine...

If I've learned anything about writing from when I first began blogging until now it is this-- Good writing is as much about what you don't write as it is what you do. The same can be said about good sermons. I was told by Kyle early on that you don't have to let your audience know exactly how you came to a thought, you just have to give them the thought. This creates space for spiritual imagination.

When I read the gospel accounts of the nativity, I'm struck by how little detail we are given. There's a lot of material about the events leading up to the birth of Jesus. But other than wise men arriving from the east some time later, we are not given much to go with other than an inn that is full and an available stable out back.

Of all the valuble things the iconography of Catholic and Orthodox traditions have given us, one drawback is all the glowing. It's hard to look at a piece of this art, especially that of the nativity, withoug seeing a glow around everyone involved. Even the sheep sometimes have a glow around their heads.

Yet all my experience with human beings leads me to believe that Mary and Joseph may not have been the most pleasant people to be around during that night. I believe them to be very important, just, and above all else obedient saints whose contribution to the history of the world cannot be diminished. But I've seen video of women in labor. Even in sterile, anasthetized environment, chaos is usually involved.

Oh, and I've also worked the front desk of a hotel. Even the holiest followers of Christ become rough around the edges when denied a room.

I imagine there was a lot of screaming, anger, and doubt swirling around that stable out in the fields that night. And yet I still believe it to have been a holy night. The very humanity of it is what glows to me. The fact that God subjected himself to the fear and discomfort a newborn feels at the first pangs of hunger, this makes the night spiritual. The very power that created the universe, being nursed to strength and health by one he created, this is something special.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Advent, Day Nine...

In the summer of '98 I found myself, once again, in Estonia, a small country on the northeastern shores of the Baltic Sea, just south of Finland. My job was to take care of the dozen or so summer missionaries sent by Baptist Student Ministries around Texas. What it amounted to was a whole lot of travel to places where I just made sure everything was running smoothly.

I let the two students in Nova, a tiny fishing village in the remote northwest corner of the country, know I'd be there on a particular day to visit them. After spending a good half-day in Tallinn, the country's largest city, trying to communicate my need to find a bus to Nova, I was on my way through the forested regions of nowhere. I was able to ask a little old lady on the bus to let me know when we arrived in Nova. Two hours later I asked her again, and she pointed that it was still ahead a bit.

A couple of hours before sundown the bus stopped and the lady gestured that I had arrived at my destination. I looked around and saw absolutely nothing. The last area that looked anything like a town was many stops ago. But she insisted, and I got off.

And I was alone. In the middle of a lonely world, I was alone.

I remember a slight feeling of anxiety that I would not be found. I gave the students I would be visiting a day, but I had no clue what time I would be there. This was before the wide use of cell phones (and there probably wouldn't have been a signal that far out anyway,) and there was no town anywhere to be found to use a pay phone.

So I walked.

The small cringe of fear slowly gave way to a sense of freedom. I was walking down an old abandoned road in a corner of the world that is unknown to most people. No place to rest and the possibility that I was in the wrong part-of-nowhere and would not be found for some time. But still, freedom.

I guess helplessness can do this to a person. When you are in a place where there's really nothing you can do but wait for help, you are free to simply walk.

A lot is made of the fear that must have been felt by Mary and Joseph, carrying a child they had done nothing to receive, stuck in a world without a place to lay, without any hope that things would get better. Maybe this is what kept them walking.
Maybe this is why the angels told them to not be afraid.

Anyway, I was eventually found. Just as we all were at the end of Mary and Joseph's journey.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Advent, Day Eight...

There's something about contrast that makes a story worth reading. When telling people about my love for Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I always have to fend off a nervous preoccupation with what many consider to be the author's tendency toward dark and hopeless plots. Make no mistake about it, McCarthy has an ability to paint human depravity in all of it's frightening detail, and The Road is no exception. But what makes the novel so astonishing is how grand small moments of grace appear against the backdrop of a world that has sunk into the depths. Light shines brightest when the dark is at it's darkest.

Earlier today, as the sun was setting, I stepped outside to look around. On the northwest corner of my back yard is an old building that houses a furniture store. It is one of those businesses that is intent on just holding on as long as it can. If the building was painted before, the color has long since gone away. I was standing in the field that is adjacent to our house. A cold front blew through this morning, and the sun has been behind clouds all day. Being Sunday evening, the streets to east of me, the ones that take people to downtown, were all still. I could hear the buzz of traffic from Waco drive a few blocks down the road, but it was otherwise a rather peaceful moment.

I thought about the week ahead and all the people who make my life worth living. I thought about work and the gifts I still have to buy. In my mind was ringing the words to O, Holy Night and I considered it a blessing to be cold. Because the cold is a perfect metaphor for the state of our world, and of the condition of the human soul. And all this somehow makes the warmth flowing out of a manger long ago just a little more comforting. It draws us closer to the thrill of hope that causes a weary world to rejoice.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Advent, Day Seven...

I've got a few Christmas rituals.

One is reading David Sedaris' Holidays on Ice. I go through this tiny book every holiday season on a few of my lunch breaks. This is about the fourth or fifth year. And it never fails, every single year, I laugh out loud during the first story at the exact same things. If you are looking for something good to pass the days at home, get you a copy.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Advent, Day Six...

I don't believe my story is all that extraordinary. But as I was talking to a close friend about the past couple of years, it's definitely not a story I would have written. Sometimes the unimaginable comes in the most ordinary packages.

I wonder if Mary and Joseph had this thought in their minds after all the pushing was done, the first nursing occurred, and Jesus finally closed his eyes in peaceful sleep. This wasn't in the script. They were to be married, live a little while as a carpenter and his wife and then, when God so chose, have children.

But in the stillness of midnight, with the whole world asleep, oblivious to the fact that all the yearning of all the ages was in the process of being stilled in their midst, this young couple accepted the unimaginable.

And the world would never be the same.

Advent, Day Six...

I don't believe my story is all that extraordinary. But as I was talking to a close friend about the past couple of years, it's definitely not a story I would have written. Sometimes the unimaginable comes in the most ordinary packages.

I wonder if Mary and Joseph had this thought in their minds after all the pushing was done, the first nursing occurred, and Jesus finally closed his eyes in peaceful sleep. This wasn't in the script. They were to be married, live a little while as a carpenter and his wife and then, when God so chose, have children.

But in the stillness of midnight, with the whole world asleep, oblivious to the fact that all the yearning of all the ages was in the process of being stilled in their midst, this young couple accepted the unimaginable.

And the world would never be the same.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Advent, Day Five...

Ex Nihilo is a pretty big deal in Christian theology, if I remember correctly. Creatio Ex Nihilo. Creation out of nothing. Logos gets pretty big billing as well. Logos, word.

Genesis and John tells us all of this was made out of nothing, and it was made by the word. God spoke, and that was it. By his word...

The power of Oprah (Winfrey, that is-- in case you were confused as to what Oprah I was speaking of,) is about the closest thing I can figure to wrap my mind around the concept of creating something out of nothing. I often think about the power of her words. A struggling writer can be down on their luck, drawing a welfare check and wondering how the medical bills will be paid. All it takes is one simple sentence out of Oprah's mouth-- "I like this book by..."-- A sentence. Just a few words that can be said in the span of five seconds can create worlds where they didn't exist before.

I know it's a weak metaphor, but aren't all metaphors weak?

But God had nothing. No book, no author, not even matter-- the substance of existence.

A Word.
Then all.

And this is the power of Christmas. The Word-- the power that made all there is-- in our midst. Breathing the air he created, sharing space with us, his creation. The logos that created it all ex nihilo, in the arms of a young mom scared of what was to come.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

How I'm Insane...

This is not an advent thought, just something funny that happened in my mind at the store today.

Many of you know the history of my relationship with adult beverages. I was well into my twenties before I consumed alcohol. Before that, I believed this to be a sin. My thoughts varied from a cautionary "Well, it may not be wrong in and of itself, but it's not good for your witness," to a more fundamentalist "The very act of putting the stuff in your body is a sin."

I had my first drink alone in my apartment when I was living in Dallas. I did this alone because I still thought I was doing something very wrong. I drank a small amount, just enough for me to come close to getting a buzz. I still had a lifetime of stories (and lies) from preachers and youth ministers about people who died of alcohol poisoning with just one drink.

I moved back to Marshall and ceased my sinful behavior, because of my position at an institution that forbade such activity of it's employees.

When I moved to Waco, things began to change. The subject became a conversation piece, a good struggle that included new thoughts on scripture and culture. I came to the conclusion that the Bible spoke out against a lifestyle of destructive drunkenness, but that total abstinence cannot be found in the whole of the text. This opened the floodgates, literally and figuratively. If scripture was against a "lifestyle of destructive drunkenness," I reasoned, then getting drunk wasn't necessarily wrong. ERGO, Party!!!

Alright, speeding this up to get to the story from the store...

I drank a lot. Not everyday, or even every week. But when I drank, I DRANK.

When I began to try to lose weight and get healthier, and also when I became more comfortable with who I am, the drinking slowly tapered off to where it is now.

Now, I drink. Meaning-- I do happy hour once a week with my friends. When I eat at a Mexican restaurant, I have a Margarita or a Dos Equis. There's usually beer in the refrigerator, but sometimes it takes me weeks before I finish off a six pack. That's about it. I think about it rarely.

Gone is the need to prove how "liberated" I am because I drink.

Or so I thought.

At the store this evening I ran into a new couple from church. I've only met them once, at a Sunday School party, and forgot their names. But we recognized each other and stopped to talk for a bit. We reminded each other who we were, talked a little about church, then said we look forward to seeing each other again. Later, when I saw them in another aisle, I noticed a case of Shiner in their cart. (I'm a cart looker.) I didn't initially think anything of it. But then I began to wonder, "What if they think I'm one of those people who look down on them because they have beer in their cart?" So I did what any mature drinker would do-- I went to the beer aisle to get a six pack. I walked around the store some more, hoping to run into them again so they could see how unjudgemental I was because I also drink beer.

I never ran into them. I laughed out loud at myself. I thought about how funny it was that I wanted to call them(if I had their number) and say, "Hey, I'm not sure if you remember me from the store, but I just wanted to let you know that after I got my oatmeal and bread, I then went to get some beer. You may think I don't believe in drinking, because there was no beer in my cart (if you were looking in my cart, as I was looking in yours,) but I can ASSURE you, I drink. A LOT! I've deconstructed the hell out of the alcohol issue, and I'm liberated. You are probably new to this game, but I've been here all along. So anyway, just wanted to let you know.... I bought beer. Yessiree Bob. Beer, beer, beer."

So, anyway, just thought I'd let you have a glimpse into my idiotic mind.

Advent, Day Four...

There is a Christmas feeling. I feel it periodically throughout December and while knowing everyone SAYS they get into the "Christmas Spirit," I often wonder if the nature of what is going on within them is similar to what is going on in me. I suspect it is, with possible slight variations.

I don't feel it today, though. Today I just feel like I have to go feed the Commercial Christmas Machine. I say, just like you probably say, that I hate the commercial aspects of Christmas. Yet my job insists that I always be cognizant of how many hundreds of thousands of dollars I have to bring in this week. (Around one.)

The good thing is that my meager income makes it easier for me to opt out of the game that is Christmas. I'm not poor in the broad sense of the word, but purchasing gifts for more than a handful of people is just not possible.

Which makes me wonder why we focus on the "less fortunate" this time of the year. We hear the Christmas Spirit is about giving. I believe this to be true because a stable and a manger and a cruel cross and an empty tomb tell me so. But maybe it is more than this. Maybe the reason people give to the Salvation Army and serve in soup kitchens and think about the poor more this time of year is to actually get closer to a way of life we secretly envy. We think about how bad it would be to be in a situation where you can't buy gifts for your family. But isn't there something appealing about this as well?

For me, this Christmas feeling is about the magical word "with." Immanuel- God is "With Us" translates into the greatest story ever, and spurs us to be with each other as well. As I said in one of my Christmas posts last year, let know one fool you-- Christmas really is all about presence.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Advent, Day Three...

The story of Christ, from the beginning the end, is the Great Equalizer of human history. From the dwelling place of cows, oxen, and the occasional transient some two thousand years ago, to the final moment in the indefinite future when he occupies a royal throne, God-With-Us requires response from all who hear. I'm not saying, necessarily, there are only two possible responses. I believe ultimate things are much more complicated than that. But the story is simply too compelling for anyone to hear it and be indifferent. This is true from the lowest to the highest. This rings with truth in the words of one of my favorite Christmas Carols...

"Said the shepherd boy to the little king-- Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king-- Do you know what I know?
A child, a child, shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Advent, Day Two...

Some of my fondest Christmas memories occurred during my college years in Marshall, TX. Home of the Wonderland of Lights, Marshall was one of the first of many communities in East Texas/ Western Louisiana to realize the potential of transforming their lonely downtowns into places where people want to gather when the holidays arrive. There is a skating rink, an on-duty Santa, vendors of hot chocolate and apple cider, and tens of thousands of white lights adorning the historic courthouse and downtown buildings along the red brick streets. All of this adds up to an intentional feeling of Christmas. In content and distance it is far from New York City, but on a cold night where you can see your breath and the crowds begin to thin out (which in Marshall is very early,) there are inklings of this being big-story place where magical things really do happen.

After the fall semester in 1997, I found myself remaining around Marshall until Christmas eve. I was working at Pizza Hut and wouldn't have been able to afford the meager gifts I ended up buying if I had gone home.

Marshall, like most college towns, becomes extremely quiet when semesters end. This particular year was no different. For me, however, it was the first time in my life I learned to allow silence to actually happen to me. After my shifts ended at night, I would drive back to that campus on North Grove that I had grown to love. ETBU was decorated especially festive, and I was the only person around. I spent late nights walking around the "forest of myrtle, pine, and oak" just being quiet and thinking about all the implications of Immanuel-- God with us.

Needing to get away from an unhealthy church situation in a town closer to my home, I had recently joined a small country church out on the country highway on the way to Karnack. On the Sunday before Christmas, I woke up to sub freezing temperatures and a world covered in frost. As I parked and approached the small sanctuary, I realized there were no more than a half-dozen or so cars in the parking lot. I had arrived late, but still made a conscious choice to walk toward the building with slow, deliberate steps. It was one of the most peaceful moments I have ever experienced. I suppose the quiet, desolate atmosphere made me more open to this.

I thought about the previous year and being hurt and the noise and clamor that goes on in cities-- even cities as small as Marshall. I considered the building I was about to walk into and how it would be quiet. I knew the little old lady with purple hair would have made banana bread for the college students still left in town, even though I was the only one. I knew the poor family with a lot of missing teeth would be there and would be so happy to see me. I knew we would sing the most life giving songs ever written-- "Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a foretaste of glory divine," and "On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross... so I'll cling to that old rugged cross." Songs that somehow reach deep down into your bones when it's just you and a rag tag group of 10-12 other people huddled together outside of the cold, paralyzing wind.

During that year I learned that hope and healing is found in the quietest of places on the edge of the world and with people and physical structures that don't assume to be anything more than what they are, yet in their humility become the places where God dances at the songs of what God has done.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Advent, Day One.

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."

"How old?"

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.