First in an Advent Series, “A Different Kind of Christmas”
I cannot think of a better way to begin Advent than by talking about miracles. The Jews waited centuries for a Messiah. We as followers of Jesus Christ have waited centuries for the Messiah’s return.
During Advent, we remember those waits. And in our waiting, we’ve been expecting not just a miracle, but the ultimate miracle.
It helps to remember the definition of what a miracle is. In an age where many people don’t believe in or expect miracles, our lack of seriousness about such events can cause us to use the word loosely. For example, we may call merely improbable events like a game-ending 60-yard touchdown pass “miraculous.”
True miracles go beyond the improbable, however. They are the result of God intervening directly in the world to change what otherwise would happen. When a miracle happens, the laws of physics or biology seem suspended. The math surrounding the event may not make sense.
During Advent, we often turn to the Old Testament Book of Isaiah. The promise of miracles abounds there, at a time when the divided Jewish people really had little reason to expect God would ever intervene on their behalf.
There is the sign given King Ahaz in Isaiah 7:14, a sign “deep as Sheol” and “high as heaven”: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Later, in Isaiah 9:2-7, we again hear of one to come, a man who will restore justice and righteousness for all time, a savior described as Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In other words, despite the sin and disobedience in the world, God promised to intervene. The natural result of disobedience to our creator was death; the miraculous result of God’s intervention on our behalf is eternal life.
The core of Christian faith is the belief that Jesus is the Great Intervenor, God coming among us in the flesh. His life on earth was a non-stop miracle lasting more than three decades, and he did not hesitate to claim this for himself.
Early in his ministry, Jesus went to the town where he had grown up, Nazareth, and shocked the people who had known him most of his life by saying he had come to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah. Specifically, he read the first part of Isaiah 61, which speaks of the Messiah’s focus on the lost, the poor, the people most in need. I find it interesting in Luke 4:18-19 that Jesus stopped short in reading the prophecy, deliberately avoiding “vengeance” language, instead focusing on words of grace and mercy.
He then startled them with a remarkable claim: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
At first, his audience was pleased—they had heard of his early signs of power, and they most likely were excited that great events were finally going to be associated with their tiny, unimportant village. As Jesus went on, however, they became angry.
Jesus made it clear that he did not expect them to fully recognize the miracle before them, noting “no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” He then began to hint that the miracle he brought would be even more expansive than the work of the prophet Elijah, who often shared God’s grace with non-Jews. The miracle of Jesus, the miracle of the cross and the resurrection, also would be an event to be shared far beyond the bounds of Judaism and Israel.
Hearing this, the people of Nazareth ran Jesus out of town.
This story points us to the real problem with seeing miracles, with even understanding how to expect them. We have difficulty thinking big the way God thinks big. Jesus was talking to people who had been raised on the idea of a big miracle, a big intervention by God in their history. But the intervention proved to be so big, so unbelievably full of grace, that they could not grasp it, despite centuries of preparation for the moment.
That brings us to what I see as the crux of our 2012 Advent season. As we prepare for Christmas, I want you to ponder a simple question: Are we expecting a miracle? I don’t mean a mere glimpse of God. I mean a really, really big miracle, something that will remind us that God continues to intervene in this world today.
When we consider what we believe Jesus has done, and when we consider Jesus’ love for the least and lost in the world, how we approach Christmas should be very different from the way we’re encouraged by society to mark it.
Society gives us Santa Claus and Black Friday shopping. Christ gives us eternal relief from death and promises this relief is available for all, regardless of who they are, where they are, or how important or unimportant they may be by worldly standards.
In the next few weeks, it is my prayer that our expectations regarding a miracle will actually change how we see Christmas and what we choose to emphasize as we celebrate our Savior’s birth.