The birth of God as Son of Man happened in the dark night. A young girl, bulging with the promised Savior, was forced to leave home on a lengthy journey that would bump her along dirty roads at the behest of a donkey and a king’s command to be counted. She was near the time of giving birth. As a woman who has birthed four children in sanitary hospital rooms, who was discouraged from travel during the final month of pregnancy, I can barely imagine Mary making her way to Bethlehem in such primitive conveyance. Yet she did, with the promise that she bore God himself.
When Mary was delivered of Jesus (no doubt the bumpy roads helped hasten her labor), my guess is his first breath of air came with a start and a lusty cry even though the traditional Christmas carol would indicate otherwise. I picture a night still with cold, the air clear and frigid. I imagine Joseph and Mary making a spot in the hay, their breath visible in the cold, animals breathing heavily behind them, the smells of animals permeating a holy birth. When God made his advent here, after years and years of expectation, the world gave up not even a bed. It welcomed God in darkness. John said the darkness neither recognized Jesus nor understood him, but he was the “true light” come. In the dark was a cry, the clarion call to all creation: Immanuel! God has come! All will be well!
We are celebrating this advent now. My kids are eagerly anticipating Christmas in just two weeks, but today when my daughter and her classmate met me outside their school, they were disturbed. They had, along with all of their classmates, witnessed an out-of-control mother humiliating her son. On word that he had pulled nothing higher than Fs on his midterm grade report, she had roared into their school and grabbed her son. According to the girls’ reports, this mother yelled at the boy, cursing him in front of the class, striking him. She told him he would have no birthday and no Christmas. Somewhere in that tumult, the girls say, he had fallen down and so had his pants. Twenty something elementary students gaped in this surreal, absurd reality theatre.
I picture this boy and the small, scared child within him. I picture him crying in the dark of his world. I wonder what vows he is making today, what self-fulfilling prophecy he will claim come bedtime, and my heart is crestfallen. What kind of adult man will he become? All is not well even in a world whose Savior has come. I am reminded that we are suspended in a surreal theatre in which the glory-yet-to-come is only partway here. Glimmers of God’s goodness make their appearances but always amidst the backdrop of darkness. How do we keep hope?
I choose to hope in the dark, to cling to the promise that all will be well even though the stage before me is, like this strange classroom scene today, dark and absurd. I also choose to believe that the future reality of God’s kingdom come in all its fullness and glory can be found somewhere today. God’s goodness and love are here working in our darkness, reminding us of what will one day be. The psalmist wrote, “I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
Somewhere, even in the darkness of that moment today, the true light is shining, reminding me to hope. I pray for the boy made small today before his peers. I pray the Lord, also made small in his nativity, speak into his darkness, Immanuel! I am come, and I am making all things well.