Hope in Darkness: The Tension of Jesus’ Birth in a Violent World

A man sought to drive terror into students at Ohio State, so he took a machete and attacked students there.

An innocent man was shot as he reach for his driver’s license – a victim of racist violence at the hands of a person that was supposed to protect him.

Men and women in uniform are attacked as tensions rise and peaceful protests turn violent because of a few individuals that wanted to do harm rather than raise awareness.

People are sold as slaves, ISIS brutalizes and murders innocent people in the name of “religion”, and even in the seemingly trivial conversations on Twitter people scream at each other rather than listen.

Peace on earth and goodwill toward all? This Christmas season, it hardly seems so. We seem like we are a long way from that Silent Night. And as I reflect on my life, it feels like we have been marching toward this chaos for a while.

When I was in middle school, I remember the broken sense of innocence as they told us two boys shot their fellow students in their high school in Colorado. They told us we would need to start practicing “active shooter” drills at our school – and the world felt darker.

I remember walking into my World Cultures class my sophomore year of high school to find the television playing scenes of airplanes slamming into buildings as our teacher frantically told us what just happened on that September 11th morning. The word “terrorist” became a term we heard daily from that point on, and the world seemed less safe.

In college, I remember walking to one of my classes when I heard about a student on at Virginia Tech that violently assaulted several students and teachers on his campus with a weapon. Once more, we began to walk through “active shooter” drills in my courses, as we all were reminded how to escape a deadly situation.

This is only a small part of my history and yours. Recently, we’ve been reminded of the horrific human capacity to sin, hurt, and destroy. The narratives take place in the United States and throughout the world.

These events are horrific whenever they happen, but seem to throw a darker shadow around Christmas. These events remind us how fragile life is and how vulnerable we are. They frighten us. They leave us asking, “What is going on, Lord? Can’t you come and make this right? Can’t you come and fix this now? What are you waiting for?”

The Great Advent Prayer

One of the oldest prayers in the Church is spoken in Advent. It is simple – maranatha. In Aramaic, it is a call of longing – “Come, Lord Jesus.” It is no surprise that in the early Church this expression had profound urgency amidst persecution and fear. A tension exists within Advent that we often ignore – a tension between the joy of the coming of Christ and the reality that Christ comes into a broken world.

Jesus’ coming is heralded by angels and his birth marked by the visit of kings. But in the Gospel of Matthew, the next verses detail a massacre of children under the age of two. The birth of our savior is marked with bloodshed. We get a clear view of why this child has been born – ultimately to give up his life for ours.

We don’t like to focus on that in Advent. It should be a time of rejoicing and waiting to celebrate Christmas. But this year, our eyes must be directed toward that tension. It is the Advent tension between the manger and the cross. The tension between the Christ child, and Jesus who will come again at the end of history.

The Tension Between

One of the most difficult realities for us to reconcile is this, especially in the Advent season – though Jesus wins the victory over sin and death, the effects of sin still remain. Jesus tells us that He will come again to put an end to suffering and death, but that we have work to do between now and then. When Jesus leaves the disciples with this mission, they went back into a world that was violent. In the years after Jesus’ death almost all of the apostles were martyred. The temple was destroyed. A major war was fought. The people prayed, “Maranatha.” And then they proclaimed the Gospel.

Ultimately, this is our hope in Advent and the hope we bring to a broken world. Jesus is born into our brokenness, into a world messy with sin. Jesus is born in the midst of violence and bloodshed. Jesus comes to open the doors of eternal life for us. We remember that in Advent.

But we also look ahead in Advent. We recognize that our world is still broken and that we need to do the best we can to bring healing to our world while we wait for Jesus to bring full healing. We need to be peacemakers, even when the task seems impossible.

When we talk about “waiting” in Advent this is what we mean – we don’t wait for Christmas – we remember the first Christmas because it points us to the second coming of Christ. The one where Jesus wins the final victory. We light Advent candles to remind ourselves that the darkness in this world will never cast out the light, and sometimes that light shines brightest in the darkness. Those candles may not light up an entire room, but they light up those closest to them. Even if we can’t fix the entire world, we can bring people into that light.

That is the mission and the urgency of the prayer. We pray that Jesus will come, and pray for the grace to work in His name until that day. We trust that our work isn’t in vain, even when it seems like it is. Even when all the good we do seems wiped out by a senseless act of violence. Even when the love we bring seems like it is overshadowed by hate. We know it isn’t in vain because Jesus Christ is coming again, and we want to make His message known so that, when He does come, we won’t be the only ones waiting. We will have shared this hope that sin and death and suffering are not the end, and that something great lies ahead of us. We will have helped other people prepare their hearts.

Until that day we pray and we work. We hope and we share our hope. We weep with those that weep and rejoice with those that rejoice. We share Christ, and we pray, “Lord Jesus, come again. Find us ready to be led back home.”