Well, always these expectations at Christmas... You expect a delicious meal and some hope it's not fish (transition from the sketch "How does Christmas taste?").
Expectations and hopes also play a big role at Christmas time. I'm expecting a present tonight and hope it's a drone.
That was a little joke, I already have a drone, I saved it up two years ago.
The opposite of hopes are fears. I am expecting a gift tonight and I fear it will be a tie.
But let us leave these sillinesses -- although I may have touched on very real hopes and fears for some -- and look at a Christmas text from the Old Testament (Isaiah 9:1-6; NL):
Hope for a people in darkness
The first verse is quoted in the New Testament in Matthew 4:15,16, where the move of Jesus Christ to Capernaum is described, in the northwest of the Sea of Galilee, in what was then the land of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali.
This means that this bright light from the text in the New Testament is related to Jesus.
One must know that in the chapter before, in Isaiah 8, a time of darkness was described for the people of Israel, which came through the turning away from God. There was fear of an overpowering enemy, there were occult practices, which often go hand in hand with fear.
And now a light has been announced. I just equated darkness with fear, which may not always fit. But in the darkness you don't see a target, you don't see what's coming, and that seems quite threatening and scary.
The bright light shows you the goal and the way.
In the northern hemisphere, Christmas falls during the dark season and you always see a lot of Christmas lights everywhere. Every now and then I have the nasty thought that electricity is not yet expensive enough, but I understand that many people suffer from the darkness and that Christmas lighting helps. And with LEDs, it's no longer so expensive, so I push this nasty thought away again.
Jesus Christ is our hope, our light. If you can take this sentence, which you have probably heard a thousand times, with you again, then this year is already a precious Christmas.
The second verse is a little more specific:
"multiply the people": one no longer belongs to just a few, one is no longer alone. In the darkness one often feels alone because one does not see the others. The light also shows us our neighbour, our fellow brother, our fellow sister.
"Joy in God like...": Like harvest time, like people dividing the spoils among themselves.
I have to wince for a moment at "loot", because that sounds somehow criminal, like piracy or theft, but it's all about the feeling here. Imagine you find a treasure together with others and you get to keep it. You can now pay your debts, you can do something good for your family, you can maybe finally treat yourself to something, like a holiday. And you share this joy with the others who have found the treasure with you, and there is enough for everyone.
There is no envy and everyone is happy together.
Liberation and peace
Then the darkness is addressed once again:
First of all, it is about liberation. The north of Israel, at least the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali mentioned earlier, were under Assyrian rule and the liberation announced here was then also implemented in Isaiah 37.
But we personally may also suffer under a yoke and be under pressure. More than the perhaps somewhat platitudinous statement that one can become free through Jesus, I cannot offer in today's framework. The way there is always a very individual and personal one. But as I mentioned earlier, other brothers and sisters are there, you are not alone.
And then it's about peace. I find it kind of scary that the first part of the fourth verse, "All booming marching boots", is a statement that almost all people in all times understand. There is no need to explain anything culturally here, this statement is completely timeless.
There is no getting around the war. There has always been war somewhere in the world in the past decades, but this time it is so close.
Some church people have referred to the so-called Christmas truce of 1914 in the First World War as a model, asking whether this would not also be possible in Ukraine.
I have the Wikipedia article on this
very exciting, I can only recommend it. This Christmas truce took place mainly between German and British soldiers in Belgian Flanders and neighbouring French areas. At one point, the soldiers even celebrated a joint service where Psalm 23 was read, first in English then in German.
That was great, but it's a bit of a glorification today. The French and Belgians were hardly involved because the war took place on their land and they were directly affected by the destruction caused by the German occupiers. So it was more of a story without those directly affected, as is sometimes the case today with various discussions about the Ukraine war.
If you now look at the two verses politically, you realise that liberation from the yoke and the destruction of weapons somehow belong together. So peace in oppression cannot be the solution. Peace and a life of freedom must belong together. The term "freedom" has often been interpreted in a funny way by politicians, but you understand what I mean, I think.
Let's get to the bottom line:
It's really Christmassy now.
However, it annoys me personally when people talk about the Christ Child who is supposed to bring the presents. Father Christmas is quite clearly located in the universe of the Tooth Fairy, but the Christ Child, who, depending on the culture, is imagined as a curly-haired baby angel who brings the presents, can really distort the view of the real Jesus Christ, who came into the world as a helpless baby and became our wonderful counsellor, strong God, eternal Father and Prince of Peace.
Let's take a closer look at these four terms.
- Wonderful counsellor: When you need advice, when you are at a loss, you can turn to him. Somehow he will help: Through things that become clear to you, through a Bible text, through doors that open or close, sometimes in a wonderful way.
- Strong God: Through Jesus Christ we are connected to the almighty God. God is strong, stronger than we can imagine. Nothing is impossible for him.
- Eternal Father: Our earthly parents or other caregivers leave us at some point or at least can no longer help us at some point. Through Jesus Christ, God remains our Father, for everyone personally, no matter how old one becomes and where our path will take us.
- Prince of Peace: Living in peace with God, with oneself and with one's neighbour is an important basis for a fulfilled life. And this peace is what Jesus promised us.
And then there is the talk of endless reign, in peace, law and justice.
This is not, of course, a theocracy where a few people in strange robes and headdresses decide where things go.
The kingdom of God here on earth begins in us personally. If we join Jesus Christ, give our lives to him, then his peace can grow and spread within us. This also includes his justice and also his mercy.
Perhaps this sentence seems too kitschy for Christmas, especially when you think of your own failures. Here I was nasty, there I hurt someone with my manner, elsewhere I may not have settled a dispute but rather fuelled it.
I think we all experience this sometimes, but it is nevertheless true that the kingdom of peace of Jesus Christ begins in us personally.
And in the last sentence of our text, the word "sustainable" really does appear, at least in the translation "New Life". It's a word that seems to be bandied about at every opportunity these days, and rightly so, because we have tended to ignore sustainability in many areas in the past.
I read the verse again:
This is, of course, a glimpse of eternity, but, as I said, it also begins here with us personally.
And I believe that God has a lasting interest in you personally, and he has a lasting commitment to you and to you experiencing his peace.
I will conclude by briefly listing the individual points once again:
- Hope in darkness: Jesus Christ, the light, shows you the way and you see that you are not alone.
- Sharing the joy of God
- There is peace with God, peace with oneself and peace with the next and it starts personally within us.
- The child of hope, Jesus Christ, as a wonderful counsellor, strong God, eternal Father and Prince of Peace, is for us. And God has a lasting interest in you and me personally, that we may experience and pass on his peace.