Turning on the TV on the day after Christmas I was greeted with dozens of New Year’s commercials. No more sleigh bells or Santas.
In the car, radio stations had already switched back to playing their regular format, leaving holiday music behind.
Our thoughts of Christmas are discarded along with the last of the wrapping paper. New Year’s is out in front of us.
The world has moved on from Christmas. It is in the rearview mirror. We are annually in a rush to get to Christmas, only to abandon it immediately.
There is no lingering on a moment or even a day. Our cultural calendar does not allow for loitering. We are on to the next thing.
Being a low church Protestant, I don’t observe much of the traditional church calendar. I do wish, however, our culture had only just began Christmas season on the morning of December 25.
There is good reason the liturgical calendar moves from Advent, a season of waiting, to Christmastide, a time of celebration. It serves as a counteraction to our tendency to rush.
We do not appreciate anticipating or savoring. We can’t wait for the next thing—whatever the next thing may be.
But the miracle of the Incarnation is not something to fly past and leave behind. It is to be dwelt upon, meditated on, pondered and treasured like Mary did in Luke 2:19.
Why should we just leave that behind to quickly move on to our calendar changing to a new number? Christmas, the Incarnation, is when hope and history meet.
When Hope Meets History
In his seminal work, The World’s Religions, Huston Smith wrote: “Hope and history are always light-years apart.” What a depressing thought.
But this is where we are left with most of the world’s religions. History is an acid that eats away at hope.
The very moment history and hope attempt to interact, hope is drowned out by cares and concerns. Fears and failures. Disappointments and death. 2016 has seen enough of those.
Hope doesn’t belong on the streets of history, where we live. Bad stuff goes on here. This is where children are neglected and abandoned. Women are abused and exploited. Men are trampled and disregarded.
“Stay back, hope,” we say. “You don’t want to see this. You won’t be able to handle the mess we’ve made on this side of town.”
We know hope can’t be here. We’re sure history is the opposite of hope, the anti-hope.
But then there’s the Incarnation. That newborn Christmas baby shines out hope in the midst of history.
When divinity took on humanity, it all changes. God comes into time. Hope invades history.
“While we were yet sinners,” Paul writes, “Christ died for us.” But first, He was born for us and in the midst of us.
He became Immanuel––God with us. Not God of a distant hope, but God of a present hope.
History is where all of the bad stuff happens, but in Christ, hope came anyway. In the Incarnation, hope and history meet.
Hope walks the streets,
feeds the hungry,
heals the sick,
comforts the hurting,
raises the dead,
confounds the wise,
challenges the religious,
confronts the arrogant,
afflicts the comfortable,
suffers the lashes,
endures the thorns,
takes the scorn,
bears the cross,
and conquers the grave.
Hope is unchanged, but history is never the same.
History, in essence, starts again. Time itself is reordered because of the Incarnation. Because hope met history.
The shocking truth of the matter is that history was made for hope. Unbeknownst to us, history was building to a crescendo, waiting for the moment of hope’s arrival.
In Galatians 4:4, Paul tells us that hope came down in the “fullness of time.” He tells the church in Rome that Mary wasn’t the only one waiting for Jesus to be delivered, all of creation has been groaning in labor pains waiting for the arrival of its Redeemer. (Romans 8:22)
Or as the classic Christmas hymn says:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Things can never be the same because of the Incarnation. Hope is here. So forgive me if I want to stay here a little longer and linger on the inexpressible majesty of Christmas.
I miss Christmas already because it tells me that hope has invaded history and it reminds me that hope and history are still on a collision course.
So keep singing those carols. Don’t put up the decorations just yet. Rest in the hope that came down into history on that first Christmas Day. There’s no need to rush past this.