Long before Advent was highjacked by Pinterest to become one more reason to fill the month of December with frenzied Christmas countdown celebrations, my grandmother’s Norwegian Lutheran roots informed her yearly ritual of finding us grandkids a fold out cardboard calendar with tiny pop-out windows to mark the passing of time.
I didn’t understand the church tradition or significance of Advent until many years later, but the little numbered windows did begin to instil in me a sense of hope for what was to come.
Maybe the hushed wait for a Savior is amplified for me now because it’s the second Christmas in a row where I’m entering into the darkness of Advent with a very real ache for something that is not there. (Those precious babies were meant to be here filling my arms. But they aren’t.)
When I allow myself to actually enter into the waiting and let my heart go to that place of longing, I realize how much I need the birth of the King in my life once again. (Because, yes, he was born once but he’s born every day over and over into hearts that are willing.)
It’s no accident that Jesus was born into the margins through a woman—a girl—who hadn’t even yet found her feet in the world. He came in utter humility—no pretense, no sense of entitlement, no fanfare or parade. And even while the angels announced his arrival through heavenly chorus proclaiming his glory, he continued—unfazed—to suckle at his mother’s breast, the absolute picture of dependence, vulnerability, and humanity.
And I wonder what she felt when this glory-of-a-babe burst into her darkness? Did she even see it? Surely her experience as a first time mother included labor pains and sleep deprivation and cracked nipples and am-I-doing-this-right insecurities even as her heart spun tightly around the little one she’d give her life for.
When she looked at him did she see the way he might change the world? Perhaps she couldn’t see past the way he was changing hers. (Isn’t that how most mothers feel when her heart begins beating outside of her body?)
The older I grow the more kindred I feel with that young girl—the virgin mother who cradled the Son of God as her own. She carried a king who would change the projection of history. I, too, carried a son (and a daughter) that would change the world in ways I know and, I’m quite sure, in ways I never will.
All of us—you and I—birth life and change the world. It’s not just the physical bearing of children to a mother—men and children and barren women birth life and change the world, too. As we live and move and have our being we are changing the earth around us—for the glory of God or not. The choice is ours; will we choose wisely?
There is no death without first having life. And there is no resurrection without first having death. We must be willing to both live for him and die to ourselves so we can become alive—the paradox of the Christian experience: life begets death begets LIFE.
This Advent I meditate on what it means for redemption to be born out of sorrow, for life to come out of the darkness, and for glory to rise from those places we might not yet be looking.
Because what if Jesus is easy to find, but we’re looking in all the wrong places?
What if Jesus looks like a tiny baby born in a manger? And what if he looks like a woman working the streets to support her addict partner? And what if he looks like an undocumented immigrant laboring for pennies to feed his family or the crooked factory manager that’s “employing” him? What if he looks like a harsh teacher, a friendly bus driver, an insecure mother-in-law, a twelve-year-old gamer, a father being transferred to hospice care, or a tiny baby given a clear bill of health? What if he looks like a toddler insisting on his own way, again? Or a friend betraying? Or a tired college student working the swing shift at Denny’s?
What if he looks like the person staring back at you in the mirror?
What if we’re able to look beneath the surface of the ugly clothing we’re wrapped in (our sin) and see Jesus just under the skin?
What if Jesus is actually born into the places where we’d least expect him? What if we find him in the margins, not surrounded by perceived glory (fame? success? notoriety? followers and fans?), but instead surrounded by the glory of human experience and lives splayed wide open, ready to be loved and find a place to belong?
This Advent I’m opening my eyes to the wait, rather than wishing it away so I could just get on with the less gritty side of redemption. The Savior of the World was born once into our mess, but soon he’ll be born into it once again—no longer as a babe, but as our Humble and Triumphant King. And when he comes, all of creation will be reborn just as every knee will bow and every tongue confesses his name. Peace will grip the earth and love will saturate like rain, softening the stoniest of hearts, making them flesh. Whole, healed, free.
There is no other name above Jesus. No other name.
We live in the tension between the Now and the Not Yet and we know heaven is not yet fully realized on earth. But there’s glory here if we’re willing to see it—it’s here, it’s here, it’s here already.
Open the door to the stable. Look past the stench and dirt. Let’s find Jesus together.