Today, I am so proud and honored to have my son, Daniel, sharing his Advent thoughts in this space. He is a graduate student in Biblical Studies as well as an almost to be husband, as he gets married this December 27th. You can find him blogging at The Harbor, in between his many other commitments.
I’m not sure what kind of church you attend or if you attend one, but the church I grew up in celebrated this season of Advent with bell choirs, famous Christmas songs, and four candles to mark each week of the season (all of these are great, by the way). However, growing up, I knew what to expect and when it came to the story of Jesus being born, I felt like a know-it-all since we heard the same story each year. There’s nothing wrong with hearing a great story over and over again. If I had it my way, I would read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit every few months. Yet something was missing in my “knowing everything” about this story of Jesus. Until recently, I hadn’t realized that the story of Israel’s promised Messiah arrived on the scene as quite a shock to those who lived in that time. It was shocking to see Israel’s “Anointed One” born in a feeding trough. It was shocking to discover that the Christ was born in a small and seemingly insignificant town. It was shocking to actually claim that God was finally acting by sending the Messiah in a time of oppression and apparent exile for his people. This is the climate of Judea in the beginning of the first century, and this is the time and space into which Jesus, our Lord, was born.
One of the best practices for reading Scripture is to recall the narrative being told and to even attempt to place ourselves into this people’s first century context. When we do this, we gain an even better appreciation for who God was and who God is. With the story of the birth of Jesus, we definitely ought to do the same thing. Maybe, for example, we can envision ourselves as one of the shepherds who visited Jesus. If we don’t do this, we admit that it’s far easier to place ourselves at a distance from this story and to merely recall it as a “nice” story to share once a year and leave it at that. However, the idea I hope to share here is that we gain so much more by looking into the first century world of Jesus and to see this story afresh.
Jesus was born into a world of chaos and exile. Nearly four centuries earlier, Israel had continuously rebelled against God and they were sent into exile and the original Temple built as a house for the Lord was destroyed. Eventually, God allowed his people to return from exile and to even rebuild the Temple. The problem was, some of the older Levites and priests had seen the original Temple before it was destroyed, and they realized the rebuilt version was not quite the same.
“But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid” (Ezra 3:12).
The idea we get here is that though the Temple was rebuilt, there was still a sense of exile in which God’s people lived. Many years passed, and the people were waiting on a king, the Messiah, to arrive and restore the fortunes of Israel. Nations like Greece and eventually Rome took control of Israel and ruled over them. If Israel was supposed to be God’s chosen nation to bring salvation to the world, it certainly seemed like the opposite was happening. Groups of people rose up and would-be messiahs attempted to overthrow the Roman authorities. None of these “heroic” acts seemed to work. Rome was still in charge, so where was God in all of this? When was God’s Messiah going to show up and set everything right? When would the one from the line of David, from the line of Abraham, arrive to restore the fortunes of the people of God?
In the middle of this chaos and exile, there was a night in a small and seemingly insignificant town where the history of the world changed. The unexpected happened. The Messiah was born into a lowly setting. God did act by sending his beloved Son to bring redemption to the created order. Into this world of rebellion, of exile, and of waiting, appeared the Savior of the world, the world’s rightful Lord.
“And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11).
This Advent season, let us consider a surprising narrative that tells a story of chaos, exile, fulfillment, and redemption. Let us consider this narrative, which is anything but mundane and that we are very much a part of, as we wait in expectation of our victorious Lord Jesus to set the world to rights once and for all.
Thank you all for blessing me today by being here and reading my son’s words. What would it be like to immerse ourselves in the narrative of the time preceding Jesus’ birth as well as what followed?
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