Every year we experience the contrast between the beautiful narrative of Luke’s nativity scene set in the warm lights on a dark, magical Christmas Eve, and the lovely but abstract poem of John’s prologue set in the cold light of morning after we’ve already opened our presents. In the whole New Testament nothing compares to John’s prologue, and on Christmas morning, it is just frustrating. Our celebration of the birth of the Messiah is in this respect much like the birth of any human. The run up is special, the story of labor and delivery full of crazy incidents and the joyous meeting of parents and child. Then comes the moment a few days later where you’re left asking, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this thing?”
When we were pregnant with Audrey we were as ready as we could be. We had read everything, including the latest edition of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. We had researched all our gear in Mama Bargains. We had talked to every relative and friend about what to expect, and learned things about ourselves as newborns we’d never been told. We even knew that what we knew couldn’t compare to having the baby. But then came that first night at home, all alone, two exhausted parents in the middle of the night with a hungry baby who refused to take the time to nurse and had a perpetual stomach ache.
Similarly, we’ve had Advent, and the witness of John the Baptist pointing the way to Jesus. John the Baptist was totally from God. Everything he said about Jesus was legit: how Jesus compared to him; what kind of authority Jesus had; even John’s audacious are you the one for whom we have waited? and its challenge to us to let Jesus challenge us—it was all spot on, straight from God, and we couldn’t have gotten ready for Jesus without it. And now we’ve got this Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. “Hey! So, uh, you live here, now, huh? What the hell am I supposed to do with this thing?”
Maybe we can thumb through John the Baptist, God’s version of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I said in Advent John connects the highways of our faith traditions and our spirituality, bringing the past into the present. That faith tradition goes back a long way. Who knows how people first experienced God’s presence! Before art and writing there was no way to share it. The Bible attempts to explain it, though. It’s called the first proclamation of the gospel. Genesis, Chapter 3: what took God seven days to build has taken a few minutes for two human beings to ruin, all because they can’t leave fruit alone. Adam has blamed it on Eve, Eve has blamed it on the serpent, God inquires no further. Adam and Eve will get theirs, but God starts with the serpent. There is of course the etiological story of “how the serpent lost his legs.” Then God says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” Originally this probably was the etiological story, “why snakes and people don’t like each other.” Early Christians, however, saw the gospel: he will strike your head. Someone born of a woman will come, and he will overpower the serpent. Even at the moment all seems lost, God promises forgiveness, justification, salvation, the whole lot. That’s a story in God’s edition of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
Actually having the baby Jesus (or John’s opening poem) with us is different, but maybe we’ve read about something we can do! When John the Evangelist writes, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” we hear an echo of the story of God promising everything and more, even at the moment everything seems lost. For the light is God the Son, the eternal Word of God, who has always been since before the beginning. And the darkness tried to overcome it. Flat out lied to the woman, “God’s afraid of you; eat the fruit and overthrow God!” The darkness didn’t think Eve could actually overthrow God; the darkness wanted to ruin God’s relationship with Eve and Adam. Instead, God says, “I’m gonna step on you!” And now, God has.
The Light Shines in the newborn infant, and yes, he has come to dwell with us. Things we were told prior to his coming are true, but true in the way Genesis 3 wound up being about this new baby. It is still different. The Word of God dwelling with us is like the newborn baby dwelling with us. Life becomes all about this new person. Life becomes all about God and what God is calling for us to do. Sometimes the call is hard to understand. You know, kids only have a few basic cries. Parents swear we know what our babies want, but that is just us going by what time it is and what we think the baby wants right now. Sometimes the kid is screaming and you think they’re hungry and really they’re screaming because they’re too hot, or you buckled their seatbelt too tight. So with God’s call, we sometimes figure it out right away, sometimes take longer. It’s not God’s fault. It’s not anyone’s fault; we’re doing our best, here. Eventually, we figure out what God wants us to do and we get it done. The life of faith is going to be one call from God after another, patterned on what John the Baptist has told us to expect, but still totally different now that the Word dwells with us.
One thing about this kid: he’s not afraid of the dark; the dark is afraid of him. The darkness (or the serpent) is scared to death of this baby. The darkness doesn’t stop trying to upset us. The darkness is always ready to lie to us, to twist the truth to fit its own falsehoods. The darkness tells us, “God doesn’t love you. How could God love you? You remember Eve and the fruit. It only took the slightest suggestion and she ate it. God knows that. God knows you can’t be trusted.” When we hear the call of God and cannot understand it, remember that call scares the hell out of the devil. It’s the cry of the kid who tramples him underfoot. It is the cry of the kid whose death will abolish sin’s power over us. It is the cry of the kid who rose from the dead so he could take us to his Father’s house. It is the cry that scatters the darkness.