The Myth of Christmas: When Hope Seems LostCommunion Sunday
Just after this meditation we will sing, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” We will sing the line, “from our sins and fears release us, let us find our rest in thee.” These are challenging words, to consider rest when rest will seem in short supply.
The myth of Christmas is that we view it as a season of hope and expectation, but often it is just the opposite. We experience Christmas as more tradition than a journey of faith. Maybe we aren’t responsible for our own hope. Perhaps, hope is something that God has already given and offers to us.
During Advent, we might be caught in a conundrum of expectations. We will feel compelled to meet demands of tradition. We may hear the age-old stories and sing familiar songs that pack little punch for our complex and complicated lives, far removed from mangers and shepherds and heavenly stars. During these weeks, I invite us on a Sacred Journey in which we might recognize the hand of God in common stories.
We read the story of Zachariah and Elizabeth from Luke’s Gospel. Two geriatrics who barely make a ripple on the Christmas geiger counter of importance frame our first Advent lesson. You never see Zachariah or Elizabeth on Christmas cards. They don’t appear in manger scenes, nor are they featured in Christmas plays. The dusk of sadness hovers over them; the thing they longed for most was to have a child. Now that dream has passed them by as their biological clocks have long since struck midnight.
If we interviewed them about their expectations, thoughts, and feelings, they would look at us with blank stares and admit that their expectations had long been unfulfilled. Both, however, continued to live lives of faith and Zachariah dutifully went about his priestly duties.
But then the unexpected happened, a messenger appeared to Zachariah in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Was he seeing things? He was afraid until the messenger said those words we all long to hear, “Your prayers have been answered.” Zachariah may have wanted to say, “What prayers are those?”
What prayers have any of us given up on? Perhaps, Elizabeth and Zachariah had stopped praying for a child. Maybe by some stretch of the imagination, they were on God’s timetable and not their own.
It did not take Zachariah long to play the card of impossibility when the Angel told his preposterous news. “You are aware how old we are? Elizabeth and I are really not the perfect choice here, you know.” Zachariah felt that it was his job to provide God with a reality check and so do we. For Zachariah’s doubt, he was struck mute until the time he and Elizabeth heard little John the Baptist cry.
Is it not ironic that Zachariah was struck mute while still at work, he would not have been able to rush home and tell Elizabeth, “You’ll never believe what happened to me today!” You’ll never believe what will happen to you 9 months from now.”
For 9 months, silently they waited, locked within their own thoughts, awash in the impossibility that their most extravagant dream was indeed going to happen.
Zachariah’s silent waiting is not the hurried frenzied wait that frames most of our own Advent. What if like Zachariah, we dedicated more time for silent waiting, reminded of the power of God to surprise us with the impossible for which none of us are responsible?
What impossibility can we still believe in? What hope are we praying that God might still miraculously fulfill? Sometimes we just need to see how preposterous our situation is to say, “God, it’s too impossible/too crazy for me. But not for you!” Remember that it is not our responsibility to do the impossible – that exclusively belongs to God.
God really doesn’t need us to be in control of our own miracles. God thanks us for our opinions that the world or this church or our family are in such a state that nothing will ever turn them around. Maybe it’s time to consider that our opinion is just that, our opinion that has little basis in the truth that “with God all things are possible.”
How did Zachariah and Elizabeth prepare for the birth of their miracle? The same question may be asked of us in the coming days. How do we prepare ourselves to birth the impossible into our lives and into our world? Will we be so caught up in meeting expectations that we miss the hope that God offers to us?
What myth do we need to get rid of so that we can embrace the kind of silent waiting that Zachariah and Elizabeth modeled?
There is a myth about where hope comes from. We think hope comes from meeting expectations, or pleasing people, or staying just ahead of the demand that chases us in every direction. Our lack of hope diminishes our belief that with God all things are possible. What does that even mean in our lives, in our church, in our culture?
We read from Isaiah 64 which begins with a prayer that God would “tear open the heavens and come down.” The Israelites were no strangers to waiting, they had waited for generations for God to rescue them from their enemies. In verse 4, Isaiah writes, “From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for the Lord.”
When all hope seems lost and the chasm between God and God’s people seems to have drifted too far apart, we are reminded that we are the clay and God is the potter. We belong to God.