Every year as Advent begins our family takes out its Christmas library – the loosely curated stash of books acquired over many years conveying the Christmas story and spirit in poetry, images, songs, and stories from across centuries and around the world. At the start of Advent, we often begin with this brief reflection from Marianne Radius’s simple and thoughtful little book God With Us : A Life of Jesus for Young Readers. It always seems to set the right tone for me in my own spirit as I seek to “wait” my way through Advent into Christmas instead of rushing through it, which sadly remains my natural bent.
As you begin your own Advent, in lieu of a personal reflection, I offer this child-like lens into the bigger story we celebrate at Christmas in hope that it helps calibrate your own sense of waiting and promise this Christmas season. It invites an appropriate measure of wonder that the story we find ourselves celebrating at Christmas is actually much bigger than we think, much slower and more intricate than we can easily tolerate, and much richer than we imagine. I hope you enjoy it.
Marianne Radius writes….
There is a strange thing about the days of December – they seem to pass more slowly than the days of any other month. As Christmas comes nearer and nearer, the days get longer and longer, until at last they drag past so slowly that you wonder if Christmas will ever come.
If this is the way you feel, then I ask you to come with me on a journey – a journey across an ocean to a strange land, and a journey back in time to a world that had never heard of Christmas.
How would you feel if you had to wait for Christmas not a few short days or weeks, but hundreds, no, thousands of years? You have known whose birthday Christmas is for as far back as you can remember. But in the world we are going to visit, though the people longed for Christmas, and hoped for it, and prayed for it, they did not know how or when it would come. For these people Christmas was only a promise. It was a very old promise. It was a promise given by God.
God gave this promise when the gate into the garden closed tight against Adam and Eve because of their sin. Somehow, God promised that He himself, through one of their children, would win back for the man and the woman that wonderful friendship with God which they had so carelessly thrown away when they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. Adam and Eve did not understand how this could happen. They did not know when. They had only the promise of God, but that was enough for them. They trusted in God’s promise. Someday they were going to walk and talk with God again.
God repeated the promise to Abraham. Someday, through one of his children, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham did not understand how. He did not know when. He had only the promise. He trusted in that.
And David – he, too, trusted in the promise, the promise that one of his children would rule over a kingdom that would never end. And Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and the other prophets – all of them longed and hoped and prayed for the Saviour who God had said would someday come. They did not know when He would come. They did not know where. They had only the promise.
“The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come in his temple.” This was again the Christmas promise, repeated by God in the very last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi. But since that last time when God had spoken this promise, more than three hundred years had passed. The Saviour had not come. All those three hundred years God had sent no message. There was only silence. And the heavens above seemed as brass!
Three hundred years is a long time to wait. I do not know your family, but I can guess your grandfather was born not more than eighty years ago, and your great-grandfather about a hundred and ten years. So you see in this world we are visiting, the last person who had actually heard God’s promise spoken was the great-grandfather of the great-grandfather of the great-grandfather of the people who lived now. It would have been at least nine generations ago. Not many of us can count our ancestry that far back, much less know anything about those people who lived three hundred years ago. And would you stake your life on a promise made that long ago and still not come true? And then, just as God had promised, the Saviour came suddenly.
[An excerpt from the book God With Us : A Life of Jesus for Young Readers By Marianne Radius. With permission, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI ©1966]
Kate Harris is a board member at Coracle.