I’ll admit it. Most years I love Christmas.
The lights. The sounds. The smells. The sense of anticipation in the air. Christmas music playing twenty-four hours a day on the radio. Endless replays of A Christmas Story on TBS. The one peppermint mocha I’ll drink all year just because I can. Watching our kids lose their minds on Christmas morning.
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
Some years it really is.
But what about the others? What about those years when it’s not the most wonderful time of the year? Because let’s be honest, we all have them.
Over the past several years our family has had some of the best Christmas seasons I can remember. But we’ve also had some of the hardest.
I once heard it said that the Christmas season is like a megaphone or a magnifying glass. It tends to amplify everything.
When things are going well it’s not uncommon for the Christmas season to be one of the highlights of our year. However, when things aren’t going well the Christmas season can be exceptionally difficult.
The fog feels thicker. The darkness can feel somehow darker.
And the constant barrage of sappy films and songs ringing about joy and peace and goodwill towards men certainly doesn’t help. When we aren’t well, the whole season can feel depressingly hollow, if not altogether meaningless.
I’ve found this can be especially hard on those of us who are Christians. On top of our struggle we almost intrinsically heap on a big ‘ol heaping dose of shame. “Good Christians are happy this time of year. I am not supposed to feel like this! What is wrong with me?!”
If you’ve ever found yourself disappointed with God or confused about what he’s up to, you need to know something. The Christmas story is your story.
The Christmas story is couched in 400 years of disappointment with God.
When you turn the page from the end of the Old Testament to the beginning of the New Testament, that little sheet of paper represents 400 years.
Think about that for a second.
For 400 years, God. goes. silent.
No more words from God. No prophets from God. No special miracles.
We are talking about four hundred years of wondering where God was. Four hundred years of wondering why he wasn’t showing up. Four hundred years of wondering why prayers were going unanswered. Four hundred years of wondering whether all of God’s promises were little more than hot air.
This Advent I think we need to pause here. Because there is something here for us, especially for those of us who find ourselves in a difficult place this Advent season.
While it may seem at times like everyone but you is having themselves a merry little Christmas, remember:
1. Even the most faithful people experience times in which God seems distant and faith seems hard to come by.
This isn’t unique to those who found themselves living in the 400-year silence.
The bible is full of stories of people who at times found themselves feeling very alone and letdown by God. Some questioned his character. Others questioned his goodness. Some even questioned his existence altogether.
The bible is no stranger to struggle or doubt.
If you find yourself there this Advent season, know that it does not necessarily mean that your faith is somehow broken or that you are doing it wrong. The truth is you are in very, very good company.
2. Just because you or I can’t see what God is up to, doesn’t mean he is sleeping on the job.
Never confuse God’s silence with his absence.
The truth is we don’t know exactly what God was doing during those 400 years of silence because the scriptures don’t tell us. Human history, however, tells us a lot.
During those 400 years, we know three very significant things happened that would pave the way for Jesus’ message and movement to grow exponentially:
- After conquering much of the known world, Alexander The Great decided to institute a common language. That language was Koine Greek; the same language your New Testament is written in.
- After Alexander The Great died and the Roman Empire rose to power, they created a military peace called the Pax Romana. This allowed people to travel with an increased sense of peace and security.
- In addition to this, the they also built a vastly improved transportation system. Together, the military peace and vastly improved transportation system enabled people to travel further and faster than ever before.
Jeff Henderson (who I owe a lot of credit to) describes these 400 years like an intermission during a play. The curtain drops and the show seems to stop. But while you are grabbing popcorn there is all kinds of activity happening behind the curtain. Everything is being set for the next scene. So by the time we take our seat and the curtain finally comes up, everything has been changed to prepare for the next chapter of the story.
Of course, there is no way us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what God was up to all that time. But here’s what we do know: On the other side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus’ followers took his message further and spread his message faster than could have ever been possible 400 years earlier.
What began as just as a small group hiding in fear grew to a movement of over 25,000 people by just 100 AD. By 310 AD it had grown to 25 million. Today that number is now over 2 billion people.
Perhaps what took place in the ancient world over those 400 years is just coincidence.
Maybe it was all happenstance. Blind luck.
Or maybe just maybe God was working behind the scenes all along, rearranging the pieces so that the world would be perfectly positioned to receive and spread Jesus’ message. Perhaps God had been at work all along in ways his people simply could not see or understand at the time.
At work in the silence.
At work in the stillness.
At work in the dark and seeming hopelessness of the night.
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” – Galatians 4:4-5
“But when the set time had fully come…”
Indeed, the time which God had determined did eventually come, and this Christmas we will celebrate that very thing. But before it, before the light would shine in the darkness, before the miracles, before the fulfilled prophecies, before the answered prayers, before redemption…there was waiting.
“But when the set time had full come…”
As you enter into this Advent season, know that your Heavenly Father is not distant. He is as closer than you think. He is as near to you as your next breath.
Though you may not be able to see it yet, he is at work. Right this moment he is busy working behind the scenes in ways you and I cannot yet see or understand.
There is a set time. And that time will fully come.
But in the meantime,
Aaron Loy serves on the Creo Collective Movement Team and as the Associate Director of Church Planting for the EFCA's Southeast District.