He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God… and he shall be the one of peace. (Micah 5.4-5)
So the Mayan apocalypse of 12/21/12 has gone the way of all end-of-the-world predictions. The planet is still spinning. We’re still alive and kicking. It’s business as usual. For most of us, it’s no surprise. We knew not to put any credence into this latest far-fetched scenario. And we know, sooner or later, a new one will surface. Someone will forecast yet another space-time anomaly that portends global doom. We’ll chuckle at that, too, and when it turns out to be a bust, we’ll chuckle at the next one and the one after that.
Although we scoff at doomsday predictions, our laughter reveals something we should seriously consider. Poking fun at apocalyptic notions exorcises our anxieties about them. Something inside us—something we can’t quite reach and disarm—insists the whole thing could come crashing down around us at any moment. (It only took one meteor to wipe out the dinosaurs.) And somewhat perversely, I think we find a degree of comfort in the possibility that All Of This might suddenly end with a big bang. Keeping the planet alive and peaceful is hard work. The constant toil and conflicts of everyday life wear us out. And I suspect a few of us may have been disappointed that 12/21 came and went uneventfully. Apocalypse now is the weary soul’s way out.
In Advent’s steady ascent to the manger, a very specific sort of weariness sets in. We can’t sing hopeful hymns and recite promises of salvation without registering how greatly we need hope and saving. Our world is in a sorry state that trickles down into our everyday lives. With so much of what affects us beyond our control—nearly all of it headed the wrong way—it’s no wonder that we greet apocalyptic panic with cordial ambivalence. But the prophets constantly remind us the antidote for weariness isn’t looking for a cosmic cataclysm that will sweep away all of our troubles. We combat weariness by placing our trust in God’s creative power to make something new. As the light of Christmas dawn breaks through Advent’s night, Scripture beckons us to embrace prophetic vision that looks beyond human deficiencies to see a God of limitless possibilities. War and violence are precursors to peace. Injustice and hatred set the stage for mercy and love. Despair delivers hope. Sorrow gives way to joy. Christ’s birth heralds the birth of all that is good and right in us. Lest weariness overtake us, the Nativity enables us to know that nothing is impossible for God.
This God of infinite possibilities can only be found in our darkness and chaos. It is from there that God speaks and works wonders. It is in the despair of night that prophetic vision sharpens its focus and sees what God is actually doing. Sunday’s prophetic text (Micah 5.2-5) calls to us from a world shrouded in hopelessness, discord, and looming defeat. Assyrian invaders have trampled the northern half of the Jewish kingdom. Pagan cults have infiltrated the nation’s faith life and the erosion of belief is evidenced in the corruption of civic and religious leaders. Apocalyptic doom is on the up-rise. But Micah sees light breaking through the chaos and darkness. “This is not the end,” he declares. “It’s the beginning.” He compares this season of violence and injustice to childbirth, urging the people to push ahead. There is no time for weariness. A Savior is coming. “He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth, and he shall be the one of peace,” he promises. (Micah 5.4-5) A New Order will rise out of the nation’s wearying confusion, oppression, and self-destructiveness.
The Newborn King
In the coming days, we will sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” And in that song we should exercise prophetic vision that sees Christ for all that Christ is. The lowliness of Jesus’s birth is wreathed in majesty—not of the pompous, ceremonial kind, but of certain power and authority that makes all things possible. Our Savior, Who chose to live among us as one of us, is the One of Peace. God comes to us not as a tyrant placing undue demands on us, but as a gentle Shepherd, Who watches over us and feeds us. God reaches us in our darkness and chaos, because that’s where God’s infinite possibilities reside.
May this Christmas overflow with prophetic insight that illuminates the majestic hope, joy, love, and peace that is born to us and lives in us. May we exchange our weariness with the world for the invigorating glory of our newborn King.
God’s infinite possibilities reside in our darkness and chaos.
Postscript: “Come Darkness, Come Light”
A couple of years ago, I put together a little video to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lovely ballad, “Come Darkness, Come Light.” I’ve posted it before. But I’m reprising it as my Christmas prayer for all of us. Have a joyous celebration!