For centuries, Christians have followed something called the common lectionary – a selection of scripture passages to be read throughout the year. The reading for last week, Advent week 1 was from Mark 13:24-37. It’s a passage about the distress and travails pointing forward to the end of the age. Kind of a strange passage for Christmas tide, but then again, maybe not.
Our current Christmas season has begun with Time magazine calling 2020 “the worst year ever”. Folks who survived the Holocaust, lived through the Great Depression, or who fought in the Crusades might argue with Time Magazine’s assessment, but there’s no doubt that 2020 has been a challenge. So, the songs of peace on earth, good will, and comfort and joy stand in stark contrast to the state of the world around us and within many of us.
But I think there’s wisdom and confidence to be found in the both the scripture passage selected by the lectionary, and the time of year selected to read it. In fact, it should be no surprise that the angels sang about peace on earth, goodwill to men in a time of military occupation, heavy taxation, religious confusion, political turmoil, and social unrest. The message “fear not for behold I bring you good news of great joy,” means as much as it does because it stood in stark contrast to bad news and plenty to fear. It was a message of peace given to a world of unrest.
Jesus’ entry into time and space brought a message of peace, hope, and light not in a world where everything was merry and bright, but in a world of violence, oppression, and darkness. Throughout his ministry, Jesus called his followers to be very much aware of the world’s condition, but embracing a vision of a kingdom existing within, alongside, and in contrast to the powers of this world.
The Scriptures do not promise that God’s people will live in a world free from pain, injustice, hopelessness, and strife. Instead, followers of Jesus are assured of God’s redemptive purpose taking place within and throughout the mess of this world. I’ll admit that many days in 2020 have felt like the world was spinning out of control, but God has not forgotten us. He’s still in control. In his time, he will intervene. Until then, the hope of his promises allows us to be his hands and feet – bearers of hope, beacons of light, ambassadors of peace, agents of justice, and catalysts of change.