There is a secret message hidden in Christmas. It is hidden behind the sparkling snow speckled Christmas tree and is underneath the banqueting table laden with turkey and mince pies and wine. It is buried beneath piles of promising presents and is tucked behind the nervously dwindling bank account and additional financial pressures. It is masked by the sound of loud knitted jumpers filled with their equally loud on-screen owners and drowned out by the jolly cries of of a dream-like figure with fur and bells.
“Closeted, cloaked, camouflaged and clouded
Hidden, masked, concealed and shrouded”
Yes, there is a secret message hidden in Christmas. And yet the clues are there for us to detect. From within our banquet of sparkling bountifulness a gentle trail of crumbs has been laid for us to follow. We open a book, the book, the good book. Unassuming, self-effacing. No illustrator was commissioned to adorn its pages with fantastical illustrations. No bold cover was designed to attract us to where it lies on shelf or table. Just words about the word.
By candlelight writers were compelled to commit their thoughts, inspirations and memories to papyrus and velum. Throughout wars and holocausts, earthquakes and famines, diseases and pestilences, the scripts were painstakingly copied. Each scroll and codex a ship sailing to the far corners of the earth carrying a cargo – a message – more precious than life itself.
“The people in darkness have seen a great light.”
“In the beginning was the word.”
“And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
And so through the ancient written word we build a picture of an unfamiliar and unexpected God. A God who enters the theatre of our humanity, not stage left or stage right, but from a side-entrance, dressed as a punter, pressing down a narrow row, squeezing passing pairs of knees. His desire is to sit with us, amongst us, the audience.
Born to an unmarried teenager in the dead of night.
Born into darkness.
Born into an occupied territory with brutal soldiers, corrupt politicians, religious elitists and acute poverty.
Born into a tired feeding trough away from a loving tender community and away from a warm, snug home.
Born an outsider.
There is a secret message hidden in Christmas that we are slowly beginning to see and grasp. We feel deep down that if we were to reach out and hold it we might never let it go. Like Lucy in the Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe we turn and look back at the wardrobe door – to the tree, the food, the glitter and the noise of Christmas. Our feet are already in the land of Narnia. Will we press on or will we go back and pretend we never saw, we never heard and we never understood?
A man came who was called John – we called him John the Baptiser. He started telling people to get ready and to prepare their hearts because the Messiah was coming.
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, get your hearts ready for the Lord.”
He began his ministry in a place called Bethany. Bethany. Doesn’t that mean House of the Poor? Bethany was an unclean place, a leper colony, a place out of sight of the Temple with all its gold and finery, religious systems and procedures, priests and pharisees.
John the Baptiser ministered in the wilderness of humanity.
First darkness and now wilderness. Darkness in Jesus’ birth and wilderness in John’s ministry.
Jesus. No longer a baby but a man. Attracted to brokenness – to the possessed, the sick, the infirm, the widow, the alcoholics and the prostitutes. Attracted to the corrupt and corruptible.
Jesus. A man claiming to be God and affirming that God has not changed. That this God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow loves his creation and has a heart for the poor – the lonely, the sick, the marginalised, the broken, the hurting, the bereaved and the destitute.
Jesus. God who has come into a messed up world of violence, pain and brokenness with a plan to redeem it, restore it and renew it. To darkness and wilderness the light has come and nothing will ever be the same again.
God entered our troubled, mixed-up and broken world and said,
“In this world you will have trouble but take heart because I have overcome the world.”
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
“Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of God”
Hidden behind the sparkling snow speckled Christmas tree; underneath the banqueting table laden with turkey, mince pies and wine; buried beneath piles of promising presents; behind the nervously dwindling bank account; masked by the sound of loud knitted jumpers filled with their on-screen owners; drowned out by the jolly cries of of a dream-like figure with fur and bells. Behind all this, if we peel back the layers we discover the secret message of Christmas.
That Jesus can be found in the very darkness and wilderness of our own lives – in our physical, mental and spiritual poverty – in the here and now.
“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”