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M. I. A.

I’m absolutely fed up with discussions of this wretched year, but try as we might, we simply cannot escape the vortex. Now that Christmas is upon us, the contrast with normal activities seems more outrageous than ever. Question: How do you celebrate Christmas under the shadow of a pandemic? Where’s the joy?

As I do my annual comb over the nativity story, sifting through the mystery in Hebrew verbs, I’m struck by the parallel of conditions. Consider the similarities. Information bombs are dropped everywhere by high-level angelic messengers, who promptly depart, leaving the recipients hanging. In a twinkling, whole lives are shifted on promises and unseen realities. Ridiculous demands are laid on the already over-burdened and the weary trudge along on journeys that never end. Destinations hold no resting place, or, when they do, it’s somewhere stinky. And through it all, the Almighty seems woefully Missing In Action.

On the surface, the Christmas story reads like a rummage sale – peasants swanning around, off their familiar territory. No end of bewildering action. Zachariah, just minding his own business at the altar of incense when Gabriel takes his breath away. Elizabeth, finally getting her prayer answered only to agonize over her unmoving baby. There’s Mary’s consternation at finding herself innocently pregnant with the prophesied Messiah, no less, and Joseph’s pain at the dubious news from his fiancé. Shepherds quietly snoozing in the cool night air are blasted by angelic announcements that seem ludicrous. What a strangely bizarre and disjointed tale. And yet, more divine visitations, manifestations, and wonders topped off with celestial choirs appear in this short passage than anywhere else in Scripture. God’s fine Italian hand is everywhere.

Have you ever been through a season in life when God seems so, so remote? No matter how hard you seek, He is utterly motionless. There’s no sense of His presence. Like the woman of Song of Solomon, “I sought him but I could not find Him; I called him, but he gave me no answer” (Songs 5:6). These are difficult seasons, but you learn that the most spectacular things the Lord does in your life are often preceded by the deepest of silences or the toughest of tests. Maturity teaches us not to despise the day of small things, or even the year of hateful things.

It may seem blasphemous to say so, but it really felt like the Lord was M I A all of 2020. Just hanging around, watching the melee from celestial safety. In a year of plague and perplexity, death and loss, even the most barbaric turned to prayer. I personally have sought answers in Scripture, interceded more fervently, listened more closely and worshipped more profoundly this year than any other, and yet December finds us with no sense of release. Though vaccinations are started, the battle rages on. Where exactly is the Lord? The Deliverer does not seem to be delivering. And yet, we’ve seen this pattern before.

In the Intertestamental period (the time between Malachi and John the Baptist), four hundred enigmatic years passed. There was no fresh revelation or vision; not a word. God was deafeningly, stone-wall silent. The birth of Jesus was the breaking of God’s long taciturnity.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness. You have enlarged the nation and increased its joy. For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:1, 6

In the last few decades, there’s an unmistakable decline in the veneration of Jesus at Christmas, especially in public places or cultural consciousness. Real piety is missing in action; simple, devout awe has departed from the hearts of most North Americans. An amazing, brazen secularism has been slowly taking over this holiest of seasons. Festivities, traditions, family, gift-giving or the prestige of holding the swankiest soiree are the focus now. For most, the celebration of Christmas no longer has anything to do with Immanuel.

Maybe, the dumpster fire of 2020 has an upside. Possibly, this year, when pagan revelries have been silenced, the sparklies and trinkets of supreme materialism stripped away, a precious, shining moment with nearest and dearest gets a chance. We are forced to return to fundamentals, both in family and faith. The sacred song “Glory to God in the highest, and peace, goodwill among men” still resounds.

Missing in action? No. Multitudinous in activity. That's our God. It ain't over 'till He says it's over, so expect a miracle. All may not yet be lost to a barren year.

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? Isaiah 53:1-2

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