The Real Christmas Morning
Advent is a time of great expectation and excitement. We celebrate the first coming of the Son of God into the world with worship and presents and trees and lights. Peace on Earth and joy are written and sung everywhere. Our brightly colored nativity scenes feature plump smiling baby Jesuses with animals gathered around the manicured stable, and the Christmas pageant has real camels, y’all. Yet, the reality of the birth of Christ is a little less Pixar and a little more Christopher Nolan (Godman Begins). There were no pleasant smells that night, only what the animals had to offer. There were no nurses or air conditioning, no one running to fetch ice chips. And the only people rushing through the door to meet the new baby were a few sketchy sheepherders who likely smelled about as pleasant as their flock. It was a quiet, still, solemn, dirty, and largely unannounced affair.
And then there is Herod. His infamy comes from a few sentence that we often gloss over when we read the account of the three wise men.
This is an act of unthinkable despotism. It is gut-wrenching evil. I would recommend giving John Piper’s poem, The Inn Keeper,1 a watch or a read for a perspective on these verses that I have not been able to read without tears. For all of Herod’s cruelty, there is something that Herod gets right in the sense of James 2:19. He takes the birth of Jesus seriously. He understands that someone real has shown up on the scene and with his birth, stakes a claim to real power. Herod believes and understands this so much that he is willing to have many small children killed. That kind of action in itself is fodder for a revolt, but Herod, understanding the reality of the threat to his own power, considered it worth the risk.
Taking Jesus Seriously
How seriously do we take the coming of Jesus, both his first and second coming? When we pray the Lord’s prayer and speak the words, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are asking for something objective and physical to happen. The Kingdom goal is not just for a spiritual and emotional movement. Jesus arrives with real claims to real political power. In that evening when Mary gave birth, the Word became flesh, and “to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder" (Isaiah 9:6). His first coming announced with good news of great joy the arrival of peace on Earth and goodwill to men, and with his second coming, he will see it fulfilled into eternity. Think about the objective reality of this for a moment. Jesus claims actual authority over the U. N. The governments of Russia, China, Great Britain, France, and the United States will hand over their keys at his coming, and there will be no permanent peace until this event takes place.
Why is this important? Because we often forget what we cannot see, even at Christmas. Lights and tinsel and presents and parties and carols come along and dull rather than heighten our senses. It’s not the holiday celebration that is the problem. Refugee crises, the cost of oil, political candidates saying crazy things, and the 24-hour news cycle are perfectly capable of doing the same thing year-round. The light of the world was born into darkness, and it was dirty and smelly and brought real, physical, tangible hope to the world. He was a threat to the powers of the day. We live sent as light into a dark world, and we can be vessels of real hope to real people. We may not be able to do so without threatening the powers of the day. And one day the sky will split open, and a real physical Kingdom will come, and Jesus will be the only power left standing.
This advent season, do not fail to celebrate. Put up trees and lights. Go to parties and laugh. Listen to carols and sing. Celebrate the first and second coming of the King of all kings. But don’t forget that joy comes into a world of sorrow, and peace is the answer to a world at war. These things are not just words we sing in our Christmas songs. They are the reality of what came with Jesus and what is coming in its fullness with him again. So, when you sit down late at night, and the house is quiet, and the tree is the only thing lighting up the room, and you break your gingerbread cookie and dunk it into your egg nog, remember reality. Remember that light came into darkness, that it was messy and dirty and smelly, that it was costly, and that hope is real.
1John Piper, The Innkeeper, Desiring God, December 14, 1986, accessed December 9, 2015, http://www.desiringgod.org/poems/the-innkeeper.