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Piercing through the fog
I love Christmas. I can’t reiterate it enough. Christmas cookies, Christmas gifts, Christmas trees, Charlie Brown, Love Actually, Tim Burton, my house smelling like a bakery, Greg Bolles posting his killer rendition of “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on Facebook, Nate King Cole singing Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire, Elvis Presley and Blue Christmas, Frank Sinatra with his J-I-N-G-L-E Bells, hanging a wreath, and of course, I love Sufjan Stevens and his obsession with the holiday, I even like it when Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber sing a carol together, I can’t wait for wassailing on the Dec. 18 with our friends, I even like walking through the mall and going to Starbucks and drinking an overpriced, oversized, and overlysweet drink--Christmastime is incredible. Something about it melts away my cynicism in the same way that the Grinch’s and Scrooge’s cynicism melts away too.
What if he just threw it all down?
I wonder if it’s on purpose though. I wonder if the season is designed to melt away our cynicism so we don’t push back a little bit, so we don’t fight back some more, so we don’t really observe Advent. I think marketers realize that if they mix Jesus in with consumerism and false hope in romance, the prophets among us might not care so much. Because we get our Jesus fix and we can also get all of the other stuff too. So when the Grinch is about the throw all of the gifts off of the mountain and he doesn’t because he learns that the people of Whoville are still happy even without their gifts, I get a bad feeling in my stomach. I’m with A.O. Scott--I kind of wish he did just destroy their gifts so that we can really see people getting joyful without satisfying their consumerism. But they get their stuff anyway and so our piety and our materialism can be satisfied. It is convenient, isn’t it?
But it would be just as convenient to resist the holiday altogether and only interact with the sacrificial aspects of our faith and endure suffer with the prophets this week, with John the Baptist next week, with Mary & Joseph as they are systemically oppressed by the powers that be, and lament the class warfare that Jesus disrupts among the shepherds and Magi but that still exists today.
I want to have eyes to see Jesus in everything and to take advantage of every opportunity Im given. So whether I’m observing Advent while worshipping and praying and waiting for Jesus, or if it’s at a photobooth (like the one we have set up at our space), I’m going to find the opportunity to be the story that changes the whole world. We’re telling Jesus’ story, so that we can relate to Him, who makes it so that we can relate to God, easier.
The prophets were telling that story, too. Disregarded by those in power, having little to show for in terms of worldly pleasure, the prophets of the Old Testament had strong messages to deliver, that were often unappreciated and silenced, but continued to move forward because they knew the truth. They weren’t born and didn’t live in the era of the Messiah. An oppressed group of people, who are well aware of the liberation that awaits them, they didn't get to taste that freedom. In many respects, they must come to terms with the reality that they are messengers of a truth that’s bigger than they are. They deliver the message not because of worldly benefit, for there is little worldly benefit in their calling, generally speaking just a death sentence, but because another generation needed to hear the message. Another generation needed to find security in the truth they were expressing.
Nathan brought truth.
Nathan gives us a good idea of how we can see the fog and find the truth. You might have heard this story before, but basically, David, who was the quite successful and charismatic leader of Israel, laid eyes on evening on Bathsheba, whose husband Uriah was at war, slept with her and she got pregnant. His solution to dealing with this circumstance was to send him to the front line of the battle ‘where the fighting is fiercest’ and he died.
Nathan shows up and delivers a really strong, fog-piercing, truth-telling message.
He is also able to see the truth because he’s not involved in a similar lifestyle, he’s not caught up in the drama. He’s far enough away from the madness that he can actually tell it’s mad.
He’s like the friend you have that you’re always telling to lighten up. The one that makes a big deal of things that you’ve simply tolerated. He’s the one that’s kind of annoying to be around because he continually reminds you that your actions are detrimental to those around you, socially and interpersonally.
We need to seek those people out, those around us, who appear different than us, the ones who aren’t caught up in a similar lifestyle or aren’t in a similar stage-of-life, because they can tell help you with the reality of what’s going on.
Jeremiah brought consciousness.
Jeremiah was a different kind of prophet than Nathan. He wrote Lamentations and he is sometimes called the weeping the prophet. He was hated and put himself in danger for the being conscious and vocal about the world around him. He explicitly predicted the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem, and was proven correct when Nebuchadnezzar conquered those nations. For following God ferociously, Jeremiah was attacked by his own brothers, beaten up by a priest and a false prophet, imprisoned by the King, threatened with death, thrown into a cistern by government officials, and opposed by a false prophet.
Of course, we’re not just offering a reaction, not just rebelling against the norm--we are telling the story of the one who will make us all secure. We’re doing more than deconstruction. Seeing the hope that the coming of Jesus brings to us in his birth on Earth is a crucial step in prophecy, in seeing the wholeness of it all.
Isaiah brought hope.
Isaiah, in many other passages in his book, tells a story of hope to Israel about the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Being able to speak the truth when it hurts now, and then being capable of casting a vision of hope for future is truly important. He's more than a decontructionist, he's offering smething better. And even when he gets it, when he casts the vision of hope to a desperate nation, he doesn’t get to see it.
Our freedom is here and it is coming. And we’re waiting for it, but it’s here, in the truth that we declare. We’re secure in the love and saving grace of this savior that’s coming.
For those of us who burn with the fire of the prophet, who see the Lord’s world redemption project unfolding and becoming a tangible reality, speak the truth even when it hurts, discern the absolute and complete futility of the world around us, and look for Jesus to bring his hope.