♫"For we need a little music, need a little laughter, need a little singing — ringing through the rafter, and we need a little snappy "Happy ever after," need a little Christmas now."♪
Though (in this case) unintended, this glib, untimely joy struck me as the very definition of how Christmas has been emptied of its significance; of how Advent is both so desperately needed and also so earnestly avoided. The reason is simple: we don't see brokenness clearly.
The world is rocked by atrocities such as occurred today. Presidents weep. News reporters fight for objectivity. Parents hug their children. Facebook and Twitter light up with words of sorrow, anger, sympathy, mourning. All of us scratch our heads and search for words to say, only to realize there is nothing to say.
Christians and non-Christians alike wonder silently and aloud: how does this happen? What world do we live in where anyone can think it is okay to enter a school and shoot children? Is there any justice? Is there any hope for us?
Tim Keller has said that the answer to these questions is only a half-answer: however deep and painful the sin and brokenness around us, the comfort that is offered to us is that our Savior entered into it in order to ultimately and finally redeem us from it.
So says Isaiah the prophet: "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief…" (Isaiah 53:3a). This man of sorrows, who knew and shared our grief, came in the first Advent to bring relief from the brokenness, and comfort to we who feel its sting. Isaiah continues in his description of the Redeemer:
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified."
In the inauguration of his earthly ministry, Jesus read from this very passage. Upon finishing, Luke records, "he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, 'Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing'" (Luke 4:20-21).
Fulfilled — yet not completed. Not in the final and consummate way that it will be. And so we are left with… what?
We're left with affliction that continues. Yes, but also the comfort in that affliction. We're left with the grief of our sufferings and our sin. Yes, but also with a grief that isn't hopeless. We're left with tears. Yes, but they are not tears of despair; they are tears of sorrow mixed with protest: this is NOT the way things are supposed to be.
The world feels this part the most. Perhaps the one Christian doctrine that is universally acknowledged is that things are broken, that all of this which we face is unnatural: tragedy and atrocity, war and violence, irreconciliation of all stripes, the immediate pain of our sins against one another and the communally-shared pain of senseless violence somewhere else.
The difference for the Christian — for me, as I feel the need to be alone and write in processing my thoughts; for my wife as she seeks an opportunity to talk to our son about what has happened; for those believers in Connecticut who, tonight, are wrestling with the inevitable tension between their faith and the realities of today's events — is that we serve and know the God of all comfort. Even more, that we are known and loved by Him, and He has bound us to Himself and to His body for the sake of our comfort.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort."
(2 Corinthians 1:3-7)
And so we weep, because through our tears of mourning and of protest we see the realities of brokenness more clearly. We see it as the terrible and gut-wrenching pain of sin that it is. We see it for the hurt and trauma that will befall our fellow man and woman for years to come, and we hurt for them as our neighbors, friends, or family. We see the effects of our own fallenness and are frightened at the capacity for sin in us. We see the futility and meaninglessness of it and share in the doubt of any purpose or use of it.
And, by His grace, we also see more clearly the sure promise of a coming end to all of the brokenness. Through our tears — perhaps only through our tears — we see and believe the future Advent reality revealed to us by the Man of Sorrows who is acquainted with our grief:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'"
We believe; Lord, help us in our unbelief.