God, all powerful, beyond all time and matter, Lord of all Creation, the one who made the stars and universes beyond count, became a child. Not the child of a king, but the child of a poor couple; a single income family where the breadwinner worked at a sort of menial job in a forgettable blink-and-you’d-miss-it little town situated in a tumultuous backwater province. His first cradle was a feeding trough.
His birth was announced by a mighty angelic choir; the one detail worthy of the King of the Universe! But their audience was a set of low-income individuals working in a disreputable, dirty profession. When at last kings come to honor the Christ-child, they give him gold and burial spices. His family became refugees of a sort, fleeing persecution to a larger, more prosperous country. When they returned to their homeland, it was only to fade into anonymity for nearly thirty years with nothing of note happening. That quietness was shattered by sudden popularity terminating in conviction as a criminal and a summary execution outside of the provincial capital. Afterwards, his followers claimed he was alive; and the first witnesses they recorded were considered untrustworthy in court because they were women.
It’s a story that seems ridiculous. It’s the very improbability of it all that speaks to its authenticity. No one would invent a story like this; if untrue, it would be blasphemous. The only reason to grant it credibility is because those who encountered it first, even as skeptics, turned into fervent believers. It’s an incredible story, and one that has shaped our world like no other. Jesus’ coming marks the end of an era; a turning point in history that the common calendar still acknowledges implicitly. From this humble moment on, one can only conceive of time in two ways: before Christ, and in the year of our Lord.
His coming shattered the old systems; in the ancient world, sacrifice was universal, an endless outpouring of blood to appease something or someone. In the new world, there is only one sacrifice: Jesus Christ. In the old world, multiple religions could coexist comfortably in one’s heart an mind; in the new, there is only room for one God. In that old world, death was the beginning of an uncertain journey, and the gods as capricious and fickle as human beings. In the new, death is defeated and broken, and followers of Christ can look forward to “falling asleep” and going to a God who is constant, unchanging and more merciful and loving than any human being could be.
In the ancient world, humility was for the weak… in the new, it is the mark of those who will live forever. In the old world, you killed your enemies, honor trumped compassion and duty was limited to debts, family and country. In the new, one must pray for enemies; show compassion even at the cost of dignity; and has a duty to see everyone as a neighbour.
This is what we mean when we say “Joy to the world!” We celebrate this new world and its Author; Jesus Christ. All the weeks of waiting in Advent mirror the thousands of years of waiting for the ancient world; and they culminate in reliving the climax of history, the One who changed everything, Jesus Christ.