Monday, December 24, 2012

This Christmas: Unanticipated

I've been caught up this season in the idea of how Christ was expected and received. The Israelites had been expecting and hoping for a messiah to save them from their enemies, but the idea that this savior would come in the manner that he did was a surpise to those who believed what they were shown (Mary, Joseph, the wise men) and impossible to those who did not. As I wrote several days ago, the shepherds seem included only because "a vast host of other [angels]--the armies of heaven (Luke 2:13, NLT) had nobody else they were permitted to tell, and they had to tell somebody. Only the most marginalized, those who were looking in from outside, could fathom that God's savior and the heir of David would emerge from anywhere but a palace.

I've been reminded in several ways this week that this messiah was not only known but eagerly anticipated, even by those who would ultimately play a roll in the story of his arrival. While I have a couple issues with "The Nativity Story" (2006), it does nice work in demnostrating how Mary, Zechariah, and others knew this should be happening, but could not easily grasp the logisitics. Jason Gray's beautiful song "Rest (The Song of the Innkeeper)"* speaks from a heart tired of waiting, desperate to be saved, and unaware that salvation is just outside his door. We are so often so certain that we will recognize what we are waiting for, and miss it because we're focused on the logistics--what is and isn't possible, when Jesus himself was pretty clear about the impotence of that word.

So as all this was rolling around in my brain, I wrote this out in the quiet early morning yesterday. It came both from biblical reading and personal experience, and so its voice is somewhere in between the two. It's already taken some revisions and will likely take a few more, but this blog doesn't advertise the polished, only the drafts...


So many beacons--like stars,
like voices shouting in the wilderness--
and still we did not know you.
Expecting, anticipating, we looked to lords and kings
but found only men.
We were waiting for a prince to lift us 
over enemies and empires
and so we did not see the poor--
the eagerly, desperatey faithful--
who you saw with favor and pleasure.
Shepherds dancing in the street we dismissed as drunk,
astronomers from far away as academic.
We were so sure we knew where to look.

Within our own empires we waited,
in our own calendars we planned,
never understanding that a true savior 
must come from something else
and take apart the world before saving it,
humbling our enemies but also ourselves.
That's why we were so angry:
you were supposed to show us favor,
to take our faults from us without making mention of them.
You and the men we hung beside you
were all rebels, and we were waiting for
a quieter messiah, a restful king. 

[A note: the idea that "the men we hung beside you / were all rebels" is one that has stayed with me since the first time I read it, in a high school English class dissecting Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Read the whole thing here.]

I hope you and your family--be they biological or adopted--have been renewed in thi holiday season. If you read that sentence with an eyeroll or a sigh, I hope you take a moment to stop and ask for that very thing, as that's the point of everything we celebrate: not to make us better, but to remake us entirely.

Merry Christmas.


* Listen to "Rest" here. And while we're on the subject, I cannot say enough good things about Jason's Christmas album, Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy (or, ya know, Jason in general). "Rest" and "Man of Mercy" are my favorites, but his youngest son, Gus, taking lead vocals on "Christmas for Jesus" ("Is my heart the present He put on His list?") is the one that chokes me up every time. $9.99 on iTunes, people. Make it happen.


  1. "a true savior
    must come from something else
    and take apart the world before saving it":

    Well done you. Whether you knew it or not, the "take apart" sense is what I emphasized instead of "destroy" in places like 1 Cor 15:20somthing. Anticipating that dismantling -- and what comes afterward -- at Christmas is a nice touch.

    Merry Christmas, favwiddest!

    1. I actually had your dissertative thoughts in mind when I added that line in on Revision #3, favwiddest. :)

    2. Niiice. ...Have downloaded Jason's album. As you prolly also know, "Rest" is indebted to Frederick Buechner's story of the innkeeper -- which we've used at church this Christmas and last year's too. Now to enjoy the album.

    3. EXCELLENT. Happy listening. I did not know--and if I know Buechner's story, I don't know that I know it. (Will go hunt.) I mostly liked that it veers so hard from our general desire to turn the innkeeper into the semi-villain, Mean Old Man Refuses Pregnant Woman, etc., and so much hits the Everyman place of missing what's in front of his face. "Tonight I can't get any sleep / With those shepherds shouting in the street..."

    4. UGHHH So good! And I was all prepared to give Jason credit for "the clumsy silence of the poor." I found it transcribed on a random blog--may need to search out Secrets in the Dark...?

  2. I like the "take apart" also...seems he has had to take apart my own life to rebuild it better...and it hurts, but if it works, what else matters? Merry Christmas, Channy!

    1. So true, my dear--completely true of me, anyway! :)

  3. Definitely read "beacons" as "bacons". Christmas morning breakfast much?
    You're awesome, and Merry, Merry Christmas to you.

    1. The sad thing is, had he used bacon, we probably would have paid more attention--but for the wrong reasons, I suppose... :/ Merry Christmas, sister-coz dear!