Thirteen squirmy preschoolers straggled onto the stage, dressed in floppy ears and ponchos. I did my best to marshal them into a row without dropping plastic baby Jesus. The moms in the audience mopped their eyes. I felt a burst of Christmas satisfaction as our pageant reenacted Advent with unprofessional sweetness and adorable optimism.
But a few faces in the crowd looked somber.
Our pastor looked tired. A detective sargent in the third row kept his weary eyes closed. Our assistant chief of police sat guardedly near the door, scanning the crowd.
I hated to see it.
Christmas is one of my favorite times of year, especially here in Hawaii, where we can sit outside in shorts. I love the lights, the music, the smells, the memories, and the chance to draw in close. But our pastor, who serves our community as a police chaplain, sees a different side of Christmas, a side I would rather not acknowledge. Desperation diffuses with the cinnamon. Hopelessness escalates. Families that should be healing crack and break apart. Financial pressures intensify. Law enforcement and first responders are on heightened alert as suicide rates, domestic violence, and drunk driving surge. The warmth and glow of our Christmas culture magnify the awful loneliness hidden in a million hearts, and our lovely, powerless twinkle lights can’t even dent the darkness.
The world outside my tinseled living room is desolate, like the world Isaiah saw. He peered through time and recorded God’s own, anguished descriptions of His battered family–God’s cute little kids grown up and gone wrong. “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against Me… why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness–only wounds and welts and open sores.”
Isaiah saw a world that was dark and chaotic, just like mine. No contemporary poet could capture the misery better. “Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasures. Their land is full of idols. Jerusalem staggers. Judah is falling. See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her. Now your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless. They parade their sin like Sodom. So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows.” The descriptions go on for chapters.
It was into this broken, bewildered world that God shouted Hope. One Hope. One small, blinking, burbling hope–His Word turned flesh and dwelling among us, right here in all the confusion. God with us. God for us. A counselor. A redeemer. Power instead of weakness. Healing instead of bruises. Peace. A government of righteousness. Freedom from the smothering darkness of sin. Mercy triumphing over judgment. Justice satiated. A great, warm, blazing light strong enough to dispel death shadows.
This Christmas I enjoy the cultural trappings that weigh down the season, but I CHERISH the Hope.
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Emmanuel. The government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.”
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