There is something odd about the way Christians, particularly those of us who insist on marching through Advent, celebrate Christmas. We spend weeks getting ready, getting prepared, insisting that we can’t rush through Advent to get to the presents on Christmas morning. It’s as if we are going through this story for the first time and that we have the power to stop Christmas if we fail to go through it all – the chocolate-filled calendars, the right-colored candles, and the waiting, the maddening waiting.
But why? It’s not as if Jesus is being born for the first time Thursday morning. We are simply retelling a story we tell every year and that has been told in some form or another for more than 2,000 years. What is unique about this year?
We do it this way not because we don’t know these things. We do it this way not because we think we are going to tell a new or a different story. We do it this way not because we believe that God is somehow only here at Christmas.
We do it this way because we desperately need to know and be reminded that even in the darkness, there is light, that even in despair, we can find joy. We retell this story because we need to be reminded that we aren’t the first people to deal with heartbreak and tragedy and despair. We tell it this way because we need to know, we have to know that somehow in the midst of turmoil, in the midst of being knocked down again and again, in the midst of awfulness we don’t want to deal with that yes – Emmanuel, God is with us.
It’s been a tough few months. We’ve watched as some of our nation’s greatest cities have been ripped apart by decades-old wounds of mistrust and violence. My city suffered one of the worst events of my lifetime when two young students and a teacher’s assistant lost their lives way too soon in an awful school bus accident. I’ve faced my own series of trials, as so many have, during this season. (As an aside, I am so grateful for churches in our city who offer worship services that speak to people who are struggling to celebrate this season.)
And so we insist on entering into this story in its order because we need all of it. We need to remember that a long time ago a young woman knew what it was like to have her life turned upside down and ask whether she still had a future. We need to remember that we aren’t the first ones to feel abandoned. We need to remember that the powers and the principalities don’t get the last word. We need to remember that the forces that have us by the throat and threaten to keep us from breathing aren’t in charge even when it feels desperately like they are. We need to remember that when all seems lost, when all feels hopeless that through what seems like the smallest, most insignificant thing in the world, light shines through.
We know that God isn’t just with us on Christmas. We trust the Bible’s promises that God will never leave us, never forsake us, never abandon us, even to the end of the age. But we tell this story again, we insist on not getting ahead of ourselves, we demand that we walk through in its fullness, because we need to remember. We need to remember that in the midst of darkness, there is light. We need to remember that in the midst of violence, there is joy. We need to remember that even though hate seems victorious, that love still can win. We need to remember that pain isn’t forever, and that hope still breaks through. We need to remember that fear is never the last word, and that God is coming once again to us in the prince of peace. We need to remember that on Christmas morning, God is with us.
Christmas is coming. The baby will be born again. It’s an old story that we tell every year. But we still need it.