Driving along the highway we now see the beginnings of lights adorning homes, lawns, trees, and rooftops. It starts in mid to late November and gradually increases as Advent begins and points toward the celebration of Christmas. And it can seem that Advent lights up the sky and our world in a special way unlike any other time of the year. It pierces the darkness and lifts our spirits when it happens and many who have already begun to add lights to celebrate do so now despite the dark times that seem to surround us.
We look toward Advent and perhaps pause to consider how nothing seems the same this year due to the pandemic and so much chaos and turmoil that swirls around us. How can we possibly turn our hope to that of the coming of a Savior?
We focus on the birth of Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem, but what do we know of the world He was entering beyond knowing his birthplace was determined because Mary and Joseph had to travel there to pay taxes to the Roman Empire?
Not a great deal is spoken of, but the work of Josephus, a first century Roman-Jewish historian who was born in Jerusalem gives us a glimpse of what was a very dark time and place when Jesus came as a babe in a manger.
Herod the Great’s bloody reign of terror was coming to an end. It was marked by mass terror and widespread surveillance resulting in not only killing those reported as enemies, but members of his own family as well. When he finally died there was hope the new ruler would punish those who had carried out the evil devices of Herod including a reduction of the burdensome taxes levied by him. Many were impatient for justice and when Herod’s successor, Archelaus, saw the growing outcry of the people and how those teaching the Jewish law stirred up the people and how they began to attack his soldiers, he sent an army to destroy them. They killed 3,000 men and others fled to the mountains.
To look at that first Advent and begin the story on the road to the inn in Bethlehem is where we often start, but to do so would miss the context for those who looked and waited in the darkness for the Light of the World. It would miss how great their hope despite the darkness and how that hope was planted in their hearts at another place and time. Because the beginning of the story is key to the celebration of Advent, we must begin at the beginning of the story – the place where God starts and remember that He is the author of the story. It is after all, his story.
“Everything begins somewhere, and to go from a knowledge of Advent traditions to becoming an Advent people we must start where God starts – with creation.”Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative
The word Advent causes us to look back, but if the Lord dwells within our hearts, this season should also propel our eyes forward to the Advent yet to come when the Lord returns for us.
“God takes the story of the world and shows us details that lead us forward into the place of waiting where we find ourselves now. He prepares our hearts, souls, and minds for the time when Jesus will come again. Our story as God’s chosen children is one that is woven into HIS story of love and peace.”Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative
In this season of preparation that is Advent, I think the Lord would have us less focused on the darkness of the world around us and more involved in preparing for his return and the role each of us is to play as his light shines through our brokenness to speak to the hope so many need to hear and see.
“This Advent we are walking into story. The binding of God’s story into our own. The unfolding of God’s grace-gift and the receiving of this beautiful gift as our own. For it is with and by grace that we will find our own way along the path of our lives. Advent marks our own arrival into God’s story.”Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative
Even in darkness, one small light can shine the way to the path toward home. The darkness makes the light that much brighter and small as we may be in the scheme of things, He has written us into his story, and we have a role to play as a light shining when the world is searching for some light of hope. Our path is forward. Our hope is in Jesus not in what we see around us.
It is not only now that we tell the world around us that Jesus came to earth in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago to show us who God is, light the darkened path before, and offer us the hope of grace, but also to tell them He promised to never leave us and is coming again for those who are a part of Him.
“He continues to teach that we do not know when the Son of Man will come again so we must remain vigilant. The call to stay awake is not always physical vigilance. God calls us to an awareness that prepares us to dive deeper into relationship with Himself and others, and to better understand ourselves.”Mary Geisen in The Advent Narrative
As Advent people, let us not fail to be looking for Him again as we live in the time of the now and not yet.