The candles are burning in the window.
Over three hundred people are dead in the Central African Republic, and thousands in Syria, and every day a new war.
The presents are bought and wrapped and shining under the Christmas tree.
A young woman with a terminal illness decorates her tree knowing that it will be the last time.
The turkey is stuffed.
I walked past eight people tonight who have nowhere to sleep and no food to eat.
The lights twinkle from every shop window.
And from the darkness, a helicopter drops out of the sky.
We want to have the perfect Christmas. In these weeks of preparation, we all convince ourselves that if we can only do it right, if we just do this thing and buy that thing and jolly everyone along, our Christmas too will look like something from the end of It’s A Wonderful Life. For the month of December, things will be all sweetness and all light, and woe betide anyone who interferes with that. And if it should happen this year, if there should be a knock on our door, if it should be us and now to whom the Unexpected and yet Long Expected Guest comes, there will be a place set for Him, and the fire on, and the children won’t have left their toys out for Him to trip over and nobody will be fighting with Aunt Muriel.
It is no less than Jesus deserves.
But it wasn’t what he came looking for.
We are promised a God who comes to us in our darkest moments, in the darkest parts of the world, in a darkness that never seems to quite lift, this time of year, and who squats down next to us in all our unglorious and undignified humanity. God sought us out when we were at our most broken. He doesn’t come to the house with the best turkey or the twinkliest lights or the shiniest gifts under the greenest tree. He comes to the places that are torn apart by conflicts. He sits on a dirty street corner with the people that society has all-but forgotten. He finds the weary and the grieving.
If he had been coming to that other place, that It’s A Wonderful Life place, the ideal that we strive for and never ever quite achieve — would he have come? And why would he have come?
The magic of Advent was never that things were wonderful. The magic of Advent was that things were going to get better.
Last week, I began Advent in a city where a helicopter really had fallen out of the sky. Never had we needed an Advent God as we did then. And in the notes of the old familiar melody, I prayed that we would meet Him in our dark places and that light would come once more.
O come thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny,
From depths of hell thy people save,
And give them vict’ry over the grave.