O Come, O King of Nations / Bind in one the hearts of all mankind / Bid all our sad divisions cease / And be Yourself our King of Peace.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1: 5
It has been a dark Advent. There is, I suspect, the usual amount of daylight and evening, but the world has felt dark. Senseless deaths across our world have reduced us to senseless people: choosing fear over hope nearly every time, as we retreat deeper and deeper into our own idols of presumed safety – isolationism, bigotry, political might, silence. We bury our heads and are surprised to find that the landscape is ever darker. Yet into this, “a voice cries, ‘in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord.'” (Is. 40:3).
Peace and light are two of the most ubiquitous images of Christmas – they adorn greeting cards, yard signs, and lampposts in quaint towns. Yet for all this, my usual response is to pass by these symbols in favor of the loftier “Emmanuel,” “King of Kings,” or “Redeemer.” This year, even those familiar references seemed out of touch. I needed something tangible that my big words and theological concepts weren’t quite delivering.
It took a toy soldier in the midst of a chintzy lights display to pull me back into the deeper, truer story. The soldier (like many who had gone before him) held a spear. But instead of a sharp blade, the end of his spear was a small orb of light. A symbol of war and conflict came bearing not a sword, but light.
So simple, but that image has stuck with me all Advent. Christ’s coming was unexpected. Born to an illegitimate couple in a backwater town, his birth was not your typical pomp and circumstance-laden royal delivery. His ascension to power was in fact a descent even lower. As He grew up, He was friends with day laborers, IRS employees, prostitutes, and AIDS patients (or their 1st century equivalents). The one time that a sword showed up in his so-called “conquering kingdom,” it was in the hands of one of his best friends, who got yelled at for his trouble. This was not what people expected, or really even what they had hoped for. He had some of the traits they were looking for (miracles are always nice), but He must have seemed a bit like a soldier carrying light – a confusing picture that wasn’t what (they thought) was needed.
As our world grows increasingly dark and afraid, I can’t help thinking that what we need is a soldier of light. A fierce warrior who will turn weapons into tools (Is. 2:4) and spread light and clarity instead of darkness and chaos.
Come Lord Jesus.