You know that you’ve endured a wild year when just saying “2020” becomes a suitable punchline to a joke. It has certainly been a mess of a year. I could attempt to unpack all of the beasts we’ve encountered this past year: the pandemic, the election, the racial tension, the scandals, the hurricanes, the tragedies and much more. However, as towering as that list seems, it doesn’t even skim the surface of what many us have encountered in our individual spheres of influence. If our news and social media feeds dictated the climate of the world, our future’s forecast would indeed be dark.
In the face of such darkness and chaos, many would declare that the cheer and hope of Christmas is a bit tone deaf to the harsh realities of our world. After all, why festively decorate a tree when there is still injustice? Why sing “Joy to the World” when so many are in despair? This year we’ve had countless reasons for the Church to pause and lament. 2020 looks like a pile of rubble, but perhaps the Spirit would still call us to hang lights among these ruins.
Advent Is Not for the Faint of Heart
Fleming Rutledge wrote, “The Advent season encourages us to resist denial and face our situation as it really is. It might be said of Advent that it is not for the faint of heart. To grasp the depth of the human predicament, one has to be willing to enter into the very worst.” Advent isn’t for the faint of heart? What a peculiar statement. It appears odd because our consumer culture has packaged the Christmas season to be a brief bright vacation in a fairy tale far from the realities of the world. This fairy tale Christmas which runs off of cliché movies, shopping, and heartwarming advertising cultivates cynicism because it ignores the darkness of the world and preys on our longing for complete healing. For the right price, it will nurture a bubble of pretend peace for the faint of heart. The fairy tale Christmas season is certainly tone deaf to the sin and chaos of our world. Yet, this isn’t the true depiction of Advent.
During the season of Advent, we look toward the coming of Jesus Christ. In great expectation we celebrate his birth and look toward his second coming. The church proclaims of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5). Jesus is the light and the light shines in the darkness. To be clear, we believe Jesus came to this world. Christ arrived in this world that is plagued with an array of pandemics, tragedies, and unexplainable evil. It was amid the very worst of humanity and the darkness of the world that He arrived as the Light.
Celebration as Proclamation
Whenever we gather together to sing carols, decorate homes, and stir up wonder in one another – it need not be tone deaf. We don’t have to turn a blind eye to the problems we’ve seen in 2020. Actually, because of Jesus we can look in the face of 2020 and proclaim, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5.) The darkness never stood a chance and never will. The Light has won. When it comes to the salvific history of God and humanity – those in Jesus stand at the other end of a sea of darkness that has been parted for them to know God. We would be wise to burst into song as the Hebrews did. As they sang songs and shook tambourines, it wasn’t to forget the history of their enslavement in Egypt, but to rightly see their history and future in light of God’s rescue. Celebration becomes a form of proclamation. There’s been a lot of history made this year. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the word “unprecedented”. Yet, even in unprecedented times we must understand who we are, where we’ve been, and where we are headed in light of Jesus.
Jon Tyson in his recent book, Beautiful Resistance: the joy of conviction in a culture of compromise, has a wonderful chapter on the power of celebration. Tyson explains,
“Cynicism is killing our nation. It’s destroying our hearts. It’s putting us in a place where we cannot appreciate the joy that comes from this good news we have been given. But God has an antidote to cynicism – his presence, his redemption and his fullness of joy. When we take time to celebrate, whether personally or communally, we are bringing the glory of God into the brokenness of the world around us.”
Tyson sheds light on the cynicism currently wreaking havoc in our nation. We know it all too well. It would be easy to settle into that 2020 cynicism during Advent. However, I believe the biblical narrative wouldn’t allow us to. After all, wasn’t the night disrupted when the angels burst through the darkness to proclaim good news to a bunch of shepherds? We must learn to do the same. When we celebrate, in Tyson’s words, “We are bringing the glory of God into the brokenness of the world around us.” Our celebration of King Jesus should disrupt the veil of darkness and brokenness to usher forth a proclamation of the hope that has come with Jesus.
Christmas Lights in the Ruins
If we are to truly celebrate the birth of Jesus, then we must be willing to enter into the very worst. Rutledge’s words remain true, Advent is not for the faint of heart. This season we don’t have to attempt to forget the pain, darkness, and sin that surrounds us. We don’t have to lock our door, fake a smile and pretend everything is OK. However, we can still hang Christmas lights in the ruins of 2020. This year shouldn’t be forgotten as we celebrate, in fact, it is the very backdrop which the light of Jesus still permeates. Arguably, Christmas lights are more biblically accurate when we hang them in the ruins. Jesus is still King. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.