Our congregation is beginning the Advent season worship observances. Do these make our Christmas different from that of the rest of the world, Christian and otherwise? The bright side of Advent has always been well represented. There will be candles, bright lights, “Joy to the World” and angels, all as they should be. Most of these we see and hear when we venture outside our church or home where the world is bright with lights, filled with inflated animals, birds and machines; busy with shoppers and noisy advertisements. How might we use Advent to make our Christmas focus different from what we see and hear at the Mall?
Perhaps to get away from the negative attitudes of neighbors who wondered why she was pregnant before marriage, Mary left Nazareth. She traveled nearly ninety miles, perhaps by herself, probably on foot to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, to exchange news of their pregnancies. (Mary would have been six or more months pregnant by the time she returned.) When Mary arrived, Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, praised God for blessing Mary as the mother of the Son of God. Mary responded by praising God for his promise to bring salvation, to bring down the rich and powerful and to feed the hungry. Not long after that, Mary and Joseph experienced the effect of the oppressive government. To fund their oppression of the people of Judah, the Romans were collecting a tax that required Joseph and Mary to go to Joseph’s hometown. They traveled ninety miles (probably more) from Nazareth east to the Jordan down the Jordan valley to Jericho, then up into the hills to Bethlehem.
Did nearly nine-months-pregnant Mary repeat her prophecy of the downfall of the rich and powerful of her time to Joseph as she and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem? Because many people had arrived in Bethlehem for the taxing, the couple could only find shelter in an animal pen. They may have found the warmth of animals for their comfort there or the animals may have been out in the field because it was warm at the time. Due to the Roman occupying army, Mary had none of the comforts of home, presence of family and friends and may or may not have found a midwife. After the Jesus birth, Mary may have placed Jesus in a feed trough of stone.
The lights, bells and cheery greetings of the season as we celebrate it do not remind us of the words of Simon reported by Luke. Simon’s words to Mary “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35).
Then after somewhat less than two years, Persian wisemen/astrologers/priests stumbled into Herod’s schemes. A violent ruler who had killed several relatives who he feared wanted his throne, Herod saw Jesus a threat to his rule. Jewish leaders located scripture that they probably could guess Herod would use to find and kill the child. To try to eliminate Jesus as a threat to his throne, Herod ordered killed maybe 10 to 30 young boys in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. God had already warned Joseph to take his family away; so, by night they were started their trip to Egypt when the massacre happened. For several years Jesus’ family were immigrants in Egypt. So, Joseph, his teenage wife, and son had been away from home probably five years. Murders, forced immigration and hardship due to the efforts of the political and religious leaders to maintain their power and privileges are nothing new.
Advent vs Christmas?
Perhaps the old Anabaptist idea of “separation from the world” needs dusted off and used here. Perhaps our Advent observance should be used to balance the world’s (including much of contemporary Christian world’s) Christmas focus? Maybe we need a sermon on occasion from the Revelation 12 Christmas story on the dragon and the woman. Do we recognize that turmoil and suffering will be a byproduct of Jesus coming (and probably of our proclamation of his coming), but redemption and peace is the goal of the season? Mary, mother of Jesus spoke of a time when the rich and powerful would be brought low and the poor and hungry would be cared for. Thirty years later her Son spoke very similar words in his first sermon at Nazareth (see Luke 4). This, too, was Jesus Advent. Is this our Advent proclamation?