“And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Aleppo. Oakland. Walter Scott. The 2016 election. Dallas. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile.
No doubt about it, 2016 has been a difficult year in our national conscience. We have been bombarded by images of bruised and bloodied refugees, of tear-stained faces attending prayer vigils from Orlando to Dallas and now Oakland, and of angry politicians asking us to fear our neighbors and vote for them.
To borrow from the lyrics of the hit Broadway musical, Hamilton, the world has been turned upside down.
Yet as Christians, we have the Bible to remind us what we see isn’t always the most reliable evidence of what is. Between the Old Testament and the New Testament, there were 400 years of silence. Even in previous times of rebellion, the Jewish people regularly heard the word of the Lord from God’s prophets. They heard it, even when they disregarded it. The time of silence was different. Generations of Israelites suffered under difficulty and oppression, wondering, “Has the Lord forgotten us?”
And then, just as the prophet Isaiah had foretold, a shoot sprung from the stem of Jesse. A shoot is a small inkling of a fruitful future. The first appearance of life and growth. The first bit of evidence of all that had been going on just beneath the surface.
Despite the darkness and despair in our world, as Christians, we know our eyes and our circumstances do not tell the full story. The birth of Jesus, like a shoot from a stem, provided the first crack of light in a world marred by darkness.
Jesus told the crowds he was the fulfillment of the words of the prophets. In Luke 4, he proclaimed:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
We have been empowered to share his message of hope, mercy, and grace to hurting world.
Advent helps us remember that despite the aching, the groaning, the silence and the fear, the truth is Emmanuel is with us. Jesus came to fulfill the words of the prophets. The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus are our evidence for all time that God keeps his word. Whenever we look at the darkness or the silence, we can point others to the cross and remind them that in Jesus, all of the answers to the promises of God are yes and amen. Don’t look away; the Lord never did.
Kathryn Freeman is director of public policy for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.