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The Appearing of Christmas

Adoration of the Magi (Leonaert Bramer)


On Christmas Eve, time is full and taut like a balloon about to burst. At any moment, the Light of Christmas will break forth. At any moment, the angels will sing. At any moment, the ordinary day will be overtaken by “O Holy Night.” The Lord’s appearing is so very near, and so very hidden.

A long wait precedes this sudden appearing of Word Made Flesh.

Those who’ve kept the vigil have been waiting all through Advent. But is not Advent just a way of focusing the deep anticipation we’ve felt throughout our lives? Christmas but the rehearsal of His sudden appearing in the middle of the night. He is so very near, and so very hidden until the sudden moment of appearing.

This vigil for the coming of the Lord burns in the hearts of God’s people from age to age. It may be that we are called to wait and watch on behalf of all creation. Daniel knew this calling, this yearning. Three times a day he faced Jerusalem; he watched and waited, longing for the call of God that would bring His people home.

The call came in the command of King Cyrus. The exiles began a new story of exodus and restoration. Hope pulsed in their hearts. They were like people who dreamed. Their mouths filled with laughter. The Lord turned the captivity of Zion. Old things passed away. All things became new.

But all things didn’t become new instantly. The Promised Land seemed old and worn out. The promises weak and feeble. The milk and honey didn’t flow. The land had become harsh. Alien people and alien gods surrounded them. Israel felt crippled by the enemies around them and within them. Even their own memories betrayed them.

They remembered Solomon’s Temple when the glory was too thick to see. That temple would not, could not be rebuilt. They were too poor, too short of resources. This second temple would be shameful in comparison. The old things that passed away seemed far more glorious than the meager new things.

They lost hope, lost heart and shrank into the shadow of stronger foes. They quit watching and waiting. The unbuilt Temple abandoned. The darkness of Palestine overcame the light of faith.

Zechariah appeared as a voice in this wilderness saying “Prepare the way of the Lord.” He saw a man dwelling among myrtle trees who was the Angel of the Lord. He revealed that the glory of the Lord was in their midst, and they didn’t even know it. He was so very near and so very hidden. They were called to watch and wait, trusting the faithfulness of the Lord. By His grace, they rebuilt the Temple, they rebuilt the city, and they looked for the coming of Messiah.

After 400 years, Jerusalem still watched and waited. When would Messiah come? When would evildoers be overthrown? When would light overcome the darkness? The dark shadow of Rome covered the land.

Into this dark night, a light shined. A babe was born who was Christ the Promised King. In the birth of Jesus, the shepherds beheld the “man among the myrtles” born as a babe. Emmanuel, God with us, was revealed. He came to live in the midst of His people and in the midst of their darkness. The angels sang and the sky lit up in doxology.

But a glorious night passes into a dark day of bloodshed as Herod sought to kill all the male babies. After the grand announcement of “Peace on Earth,” this babe of peace was whisked away and hidden in the deserts of Egypt. The Light came into this world and promptly hid from the darkness.

As we wait and watch, we may wonder if the darkness has swallowed the light and overcome it. Like the exiles returning home, our Christmas joy often fades into promises that seem weak and feeble.

Staring into the bleak landscape of the Civil War, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow knew this discouragement firsthand. His wife burned to death in an accidental fire. His son entered the war against his wishes and was severely wounded. His nation, the shining city on a hill, now sunk into dark valley of bloodshed. He cried out,

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong and mocks the song,
Of Peace on earth, good will to men.’

But he was not forsaken in the dark. He too would come to know that there is a “man among the myrtle trees.” Longfellow would behold the One is who so very near and so very hidden. He continued writing,

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Longfellow, like us, had to discover that darkness could not swallow the Light of Glory. Jesus was born to enter that darkness and overcome it. In His Life and Death, He defeated the power of the sin and darkness and arose in the light of Perfect Love.

He ascended to the Father. Yet even now Jesus, “the man among the myrtles,” dwells among us by His Spirit. He dwells with and in us as we traverse dark lands. We may lose hope and even lose faith. But He has already overcome this momentary darkness. We are bound to Him by His Spirit, so even as we stumble in the valleys of death and affliction, we are not forsaken. Even as we waste away, we are being renewed.

So we watch and wait for His appearing.

We yearn for Christmas Light in a dark and weary world. We know His light shines ever brighter in and upon us though sometimes it is veiled from our eyes. He is so very near and so very hidden. Paul reminds us, we must not lose heart even when it feels like the darkness is growing stronger and we are growing weaker. He is glorifying, perfecting, completing the work begun in us and in His creation. We are growing brighter and brighter in the Light of our Lord.

This transformation, this waiting and watching for the Light is truly rehearsed in our Christmas celebration. In the fullness of time, the Holy Night of Christmas bursts forth the from expectancy of Advent. The sudden surprise of Christmas appears. The Son is fully unveiled in Glory. We behold Him even as we shine in the Light of His Glory.

So let us keep the vigil in and out of season.

Merry Christmas as we celebrate the sudden surprise of His coming and look forward to the sudden surprise of His coming.

Categories: Christmas
  1. December 27, 2012 at 12:54 pm

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