Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Thirty Years of Waiting - Advent Reflection (3 of 5)

Like many a childbirth story, the beautiful arrival of Jesus precipitated a long, quiet period of growing pains.  Matthew and Luke give us a few glimpses into Jesus’ infancy and childhood, but his first thirty years remain hidden from history. We know he moved a few times to escape the clutches of Herod. We know he grew up on Nazareth and learned his father’s trade. We know he had siblings. We know he followed Jewish customs, highlighted by the record of his Passover visit to Jerusalem, where Jesus, at age twelve, seemed more eager to debate Scripture in the temple than return home with his family. When his parents located and confronted him, Jesus simply commented, “I had to be in My Father’s house.”

Then, thirty years later, Luke tells us, Jesus began his public ministry. 
Thirty years of quiet development. Thirty years of humble learning. Thirty years of family interactions, religious observations, daily chores, and vocational duties. Thirty years of obscurity.
In the meantime, I suppose the aged prophetess Anna, as well as righteous and devout Simeon, had passed away. They met Jesus on the final page of their earthly story. Perhaps Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Joseph had parted, too, all advanced in years.

But what about the shepherds who left their flocks to see child wrapped in swaddling clothes? Thirty years later, did they continue to praise God for "good news of great joy"? Did they still believe they had seen "the Savior, Christ the Lord"? Thirty years after visiting the manger, had their longings for redemption sharpened to the point of grief or dulled to a dead end?

And what about Mary, once called “highly favored by the Lord”? After answering Jesus’ cries for milk and dirtying her hands with his diapers, could she still perceive his saving role? After thirty years of ordinary family encounters, had her longing for salvation waned? If her interactions with Jesus during the beginnings of his public ministry give any indication of her faith, both Mary and Jesus’ siblings reflect more skepticism than support.

And what about the wise men who came from the east? After their great journey following yonder star, did they begin to question their belief when decades passed, and no news came out of Jerusalem? Did the distance of time and space dull their longings for a king or sharpen to the point of grief?

And what about the angels who appeared singing glory on that first noel? The apostle Peter spoke of angelic longing – their hope for salvation spanned across the entire Old Testament story. Was it satisfied by the manger scene? Thirty years later, how pregnant was their longing to sing glory in excelsis deo again?

Of course, any answer to these questions would be pure speculation. We cannot know if the angels or Mary or the shepherds began to doubt. We cannot know if their longings sharpened or dulled. Nevertheless, one thing is certain: Jesus’ birth only ended the longing for a few aged individuals. Simeon and Anna likely departed in peace soon after seeing the Christ child. The rest of the figures in the Christmas endured another thirty years before redemption gained any real momentum.
I originally composed this Advent reflection for Leesburg Grace, my church family, as part of a Christmas Communion celebration. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel inspired the thematic focus on waiting and longing.

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