I don't think I've ever been more ready to see a calendar year in the rear view mirror.
It's just been ridiculously difficult. From the big things out in the world - conflict, war, abuse, pain, death, natural disaster - the pain never seems to end. Watching the news is overwhelming. And this election season? Suffice to say, enough is enough. No matter where you stood politically, I'd guess you're sick of all of it, so I'll just leave that right here. I watch people I care for deeply in great personal pain and do not understand why God does not deliver. There have been so many things happen personally that we just, honestly, did not see coming, were not prepared for. We've watched long held dreams go up in flames - and today they sit, in ashes, around our weary feet.
Week Two of Advent focuses on Peace. So, I've been focusing my musing on this word. What does it look like to have peace in this heap of rubble that surrounds us?
I decorated the house this week for Christmas. That involves unpacking boxes and boxes of decorations. Several of those boxes are Nativity Scenes that I've collected over the years. I have, I don't know, maybe 10 or 12 different ones, each with a different look, made from different cultures, different materials, colors, styles, etc. In the Advent tradition, I put the baby Jesus away - hidden - throughout these weeks leading up to Christmas day, and then we set him out Christmas eve on our way to bed, to make his appearance Christmas morning. This year, as I was setting them up in various places around the house, I began to try to put myself in the place of those people, waiting for the Christ child. They had no idea when their salvation would come, what it would look like when it did arrive. And certainly, none of them imagined it unfolding as it actually did - in a humble stable, surrounded by dirt, animals (and all their accompanying smells), poverty, plans gone seemingly awry, far from anything royal or victorious.
Imagine with me for a moment: A promise was given hundreds and hundreds of year before. Each generation, for those hundreds of years since that delivered promise, believed the time of their salvation was imminent. When the Christ finally appeared on the scene, who knew? It's a short list: Mary, Joseph, an aunt, a few shepherds, and within a few days/weeks, a few wise men, a priest, a prophetess. What was everyone else doing as that baby was born, grew, went to school, learned to be a carpenter, worked, lived, prepared? They still did not know. They were still toiling away in their pain, their loneliness, oppression, trials. They had no idea that Hope was growing in a stable. That Victory was being raised in a modest home in Nazareth, that Salvation was working as a carpenter. They didn't know, yet God was working, nonetheless.
Once Jesus did, finally, step onto the public stage, here's one of the things He said...
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
And what were "these things"? He spent considerable time telling them of grief, pain, sorrow to come. Not a maybe - a certainty. A promise. Life would be hard. It would be unfair and scary. They would feel like their dreams were dying. And they did, didn't they?
- as they saw Him laid in a tomb and a stone rolled over their dreams of a Messiah that would save.
- as they later sat in prisons for their refusal to stop proclaiming His life and resurrection.
- as succeeding generations of the faithful stood in coliseums or hung on crosses, for their refusal to deny their faith in Him.
"Take heart! I have overcome the world!" He is with us. He is active - even when we cannot see. He is working for our good. It may be in the background, it may yet be years, or Heaven even, before we see what He has done. But He is working on my behalf - on your behalf.
As I hid those baby Jesus figurines this last week, that was my thought. God is working. I cannot see it, here, in the ash of lost dreams, but He is working to fulfill His promises.
This is my peace.
Emmanuel - God With Us.