Most of us by now are hurrying and worrying about Christmas. Angels and Santas are everywhere, and the constant refrain of "Silver Bells" is filling the airwaves of the shopping malls and stores. Yes, the great American Christmas holiday season has begun in full.
Yet, beneath the holiday cheer is a gnawing anxiety, a strange spiritual hunger that the season always uncovers, which is why the alternative world of the church during Advent is so odd and comforting. With somber hymns and apocalyptic Scriptures, the church in late November is strangely out of sync with the rest of the world. And us who are part of that church, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are reminded that we're not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by our faith in the good news of God's love for us and the world.
But before the good news comes the bad news. During these Christmas days, there's much happening that is not God's will for us. The sooner we admit this, the sooner we can move into the fullness of God's promise for us. Jesus predicts destruction, war, political catastrophe, suffering, natural disaster and persecution. People are living with that kind of darkness and danger and despair everyday. The fact is: bad things happen! In an unfinished world, a world of sin, selfish living and power politics, bad things happen. Earthquakes happen, terrorism happens, wars and famine happen, mass shootings happen, babies are aborted and cancer still kills. But bad things are never the final word.
Christians certainly do not escape the tribulations and traumas of this world. We experience them like everybody else. The difference is that Christians stand up. We raise our heads and hearts, and keep moving forward. Through all the bad things that happen, we trust that God is still in charge. God is marching in front of history, and He uses the darkness to kindle the light. God transforms death into new life. And even when bad things happen, Christians live with the hope and conviction that God is in charge.
So, we turn to Jesus to learn how to live in these dangerous days - how to stay alert, how to live moral, disciplined lives in preparation for the moment when all creation is brought to completion. For better or worse, Christians are the ones who bear Christ's hope for the world. Hope cannot be bought and wrapped and put under the Christmas tree. Hope cannot be stashed away for safekeeping. Hope cannot be won with bombs or bullets. No, the hope we carry as God's people in the world is God's promise of His coming again and again and again. This hope is the birthright of God's whole, weary, wonderful world.
As we enter the Christian season Advent, the call of God's Word is to live beyond the chaos of the world instead of hiding in the secular sentimentality of Christmas. We are called to recognize both the beauty and the terror of this world, then with hearts of faith in Jesus to wait for God's promise to be fulfilled in us and in our world. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, let's rejoice in the small, simple graces of these dangerous Christmas days.