Friday, December 19, 2008

The Advent of Hope

Advent is the Season of Hope as Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus. Over time, this momentous event of Divine humility has been commercialized, romanticized and sanitized - but the power of the Babe of Bethlehem is never eradicated.

Voltaire prophesied that the Bible and Christianity would be dead by 1850. The faith is dying a slow death in the West, even as it grows exponentially in the rest of the world. Non-Western missionaries are re-evangelizing the lands that originally brought the good news to them.

Why does Advent tug at our hearts? Why does Christmas still speak to millions, even in moments of cultural and economic turmoil?

The birth of a baby is a universal good. It resonates with our desire to see the next generation flourish.

Baby Jesus' parents were hard-working artisans living as a minority in a huge Empire. Their struggles with taxes, shelter and liberty touch the psyches of many in our world.

A dying, paranoid dictator tries to kill Jesus and does not care about the trail of blood and tears in the wake of the soldier's swords. From the Armenian massacres to the Kulaks, from the Holocaust to the Cultural Revolution, from the Killing Fields to Darfur, we see the innocent caught in the snare of ideological totalitarians.

The coming of the Wise Men to see the toddler Jesus reminds us of the universal message of Christmas.

The angelic choirs heard by humble shepherds helps us to remember that those who are condescended to and despised by elites are often the recipients of the greatest insights.

Jesus is announced as Lord and Savior. He is not praised for being a guru, a prophet or a rabbi. He is the final word in the Divine plan of salvation for all people. It is here that Christmas becomes "uncomfortable." As long as we speak in inclusive, pluralistic generalities about universal love and peace, Christmas is "safe."

Jesus of Nazareth was born to die. The creche of Bethlehem became the Cross of Calvary. The Savior announced by angels became the Suffering Servant announced by the Prophet Isaiah hundreds of years earlier. To receive the message of Christmas is to receive Christ as God Incarnate, the Lord of heaven, who, for our sake, humbled himself, took on our nature, died for our sins and arose bodily from the grave offering real hope.

The hope of Christmas is not only the hope of heaven for those who believe. Advent hope fuels our present partnership with God to see justice, love and peace begin to reign now. Advent hope means that humility is the pathway to honor, meekness is the road to majesty and forgiveness is the doorway to a better future.

I invite all who read this to take another look at the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and consider the invitation of God to join Him and all the faithful of every nation to love and serve one another.

Merry Christmas!