Do you know what sermons I find the hardest to preach? No, not funerals nor tragedies. The hardest sermons to preach (for me) are for Advent.
The four Sundays preceding Christmas are times where the Church has prepared to hear again the story of Christ coming to earth and assuming flesh. This story, retold every year, can become so familiar that we lose the wonder.
As a child, Christmas held mystery. Lights. Treats. Presents. Songs. Jesus. But somewhere along the way, Advent became weary. The sermons didn’t feel as fresh. The story seemed so familiar. Christmas had become so…sanitized.
What would it have been like to be there that first Christmas? What would I have noticed? The smell of animals? The young girl battling insecurity? Heavenly warriors declaring war on sin and death?
Little baby Jesus isn’t very threatening in our North American culture. He functions more like a religious mascot that cheers you on to peace on earth and good will for humanity rather than the Lion of Judah (Rev. 5), the Mighty God (Isa 9:6-7).
In reading Revelation 12, however, I’ve come to read the Gospel accounts differently. Revelation 12 pulls back the curtain and presents Christmas from heaven’s view: a child being born and a dragon ready to devour this vulnerable infant. It was not a silent night. The world was thrown into upheaval. Heaven and earth were colliding.
This Christ is the King to whom men bow. His birth shook an empire and caused a King to gather his advisors for an emergency meeting of the cabinet in the situation room. A baby placed in a feeding trough inspired terror and adoration. Magi do not receive a warm “Seasons Greetings!” from King Herod but precipitate the slaughter of innocent children so that Herod might protect his political power.
The good news about the Christmas I never knew is that there is an explanation for the chaos around me, the pain we feel at Christmas. Satan has been told his time is short, and so he rages all the more virulently. His reaction is understandable – his doom is sure. His time is short. Christmas means war. One little Word shall fell him. The Word is that Word made flesh (John 1).
And that is good news. Evil will not prevail. Peace on earth is coming. God’s will is being worked out. So I wait, I pray, I anticipate. Christmas means the end has begun. As certain as Jesus came the first time, so he will come again.
As we gather to worship this Advent, pray that God would give you the fresh wonder of Advent again. Jesus is coming, he’s coming again!