an advent letter for my daughter
In the sixth month, the angel Gavri’el was sent by God to a city in Galil called Natzeret, to a virgin engaged to a man named Yosef, of the house of David; the virgin’s name was Miryam.
Approaching her, the angel said, “Shalom, favored lady! ADONAI is with you!” She was deeply troubled by his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Miryam, for you have found favor with God. Look! You will become pregnant and you will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua.
He will be great. He will be called Son of Ha’Elyon.
The greatest tragedy of this faith is that we don’t really believe it. Do we? I mean really, truly believe it?
When you were just a tiny, little ole girl, you believed that Santa was the real deal. So much so, you would beat your fist against your chest and roar into battle against scoffers and wayward non-believing kids in your class—the Muggles of Christmas—non-magic folks.
Conjuring a glinting, wispy word-Patronus, you stood your ground and took no bull from any jaded doubter. “Oh, he’s real. He has to be real!” you’d say. “There’s no way my parents could afford all those gifts!” Thus, you always saved Santa and his eight, magical reindeer from the brink of extinction, bidding them to fly just one more year, one more night across the world and amongst the stars.
And what about this Jesus? Who will defend this King of Fairies, this Prince of the Invisible that some claim never even existed? What would it take for them to believe this true story whittled down into a beautiful legend? What would it take for them to believe that this story is indeed THE everything that is every thing that ever was anything and ever will be? What would it take for you to cast a Patronus to defend Him against such scoffers?
Despite some peer-implied, side-eyed criticism, I’ve allowed you to believe in fairies and dragons and talking animals. I’ve allowed you to roam through castles that lived in the sky, and ones that roved the earth. I’ve enrolled you into schools of magic, and I’ve recruited you into the resistance against the Dark Side. We’ve watched the suns rise over Tatooine in the morning, and danced beneath the Grey Wizard’s night sky exploding in fireworks above Shire hills. We’ve pushed our way through the back of a wardrobe and found ourselves standing at a lamppost that illuminated a curious trail of hoof prints in the snow. We’ve been to Oz, and we’ve been to Mordor. We’ve sat with Miss Poppins on the ceiling, and we’ve been invited to tea in the Hundred Acre Wood.
All I’ve ever wanted is for you to believe that the world was much bigger than just our few rooms, and that we share its wonders with creatures both seen and unseen. It’s been my greatest pleasure to be your tour guide on this enchanted trek across the world through kingdoms.
But, I do fear that though you once believed, now you only see.
This morning I was reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters from Father Christmas, a collection of real letters he’d written to each of his children every year, each yuletide, in answer to their letters to Father Christmas:
near (stump of) North Pole
December 22nd, 1941
My Dearest Priscilla,
I am so glad you did not forget to write to me again this year. The number of children who keep up with me seems to be getting smaller: I expect it is because of this horrible war, and that when
it is over things will improve again, and I shall be as busy as ever. But at present so terribly many people have lost their homes: or have left them; half the world seems in the wrong place…
This small letter has reminded me that to believe requires imagination. Sadly, not so unlike 1941 when this letter was written, so terribly many people have lost their homes, their countries, their sons, their daughters, their rights, their voices, their votes… and half the world seems in the wrong place. Thus, the number of us children who keep up with this Jesus does seem to be getting smaller. This celebration of His birth seems no longer to even be the point of Christmas Day.
I don’t mean to sound like some crotchety old Gus making a fuss and claiming, “Back in the day, when times were better…” Heavens, no. I know times were never really better—especially back in the day. But I wonder if, for all these years, we’ve missed the point of this day that we’ve marked to celebrate the story of this particular birth.
Shall I tell you the story again? At least let me tell you the best part of the story one more time, and let me start at the beginning…
Close your eyes and imagine a teenaged girl—about your age but probably younger—living in a some no-account, arm-pit, butt-of-jokes town. She’s a descendent of an enslaved people, an ethnic girl under a European, white-ruled, politically corrupt government who routinely watered the grounds with the blood of her people and tagged innocents and revolutionaries as criminals.
Imagine a girl with coarse hair, untrimmed eyebrows and unkempt nails, learning to be a respectable, Godly woman. She does this like you or I would learn a trade—except without any rights, and voiceless. In fact, imagine that she just learned that if a wife speaks too loudly her husband could legally divorce her, and basically leave her for dead. She’s learning this. She doesn’t know that there’s anything more than this. Is she sad? Is she grieved? Is she anxious? She knows now that keeping her life depends solely on her good behavior as an obedient daughter who will keep quiet, and someday be an obedient wife and treasured piece of her husband’s property—a sheep who will not wander.
Imagine that maybe she can’t read—and that’s okay because there are no books, no series of novels that she’s missing, no magazines, no blogs. There are no Bibles. There’s only the Rabbi, the Temple, and God’s word, which she hears—only from outside of the inner sanctuary where her father and husband are more than welcomed. Her faith is a duty in which she has been well-trained.
Can you imagine her? Can you think of a more unworthy candidate? Why would God choose her? Why would an angel appear to her? What made her so special?
To be honest with you, sometimes I don’t know why anyone would believe this story caricatured by children wrapped in sheets and tinsel. I don’t know why we’ve made ornaments out of angelic beings who constantly must convince us that their terrifying presence is good. Surely, we’ve imagined it all wrong. We’ve made the story much too small.
All of this is to say that if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t coddle the story. I’d tell it to you straight: God chose a young, simple girl with no rights and no voice, because He loved her. He appreciated her. For what reason? We don’t really know. She wasn’t waiting at the temple when Gabriel appeared. She wasn’t praying or offering a sacrifice for her sins. She was simply being, and somehow, it was enough. Perhaps, in her heart, she wondered about the world she lived in, and if it would ever get better—who knows? But an angel came and she welcomed his visit with singing.
And so it came to pass just as the angel Gabriel said:
The Spirit of God hovered over Miryam, void of rights, with an empty voice and an unformed position between daughter and wife, dwelling in the deep darkness of Nazareth (and can anything good come from Nazareth). Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was Light—the Light of All Humanity—a Living Expression of all that is Light. It bursts through all the gloom—this Light. It burns into the darkness. The darkness wasn’t prepared for it. It did not understand it. It couldn’t absorb it. It can’t diminish it. It failed to suppress it. It can never snuff it out.
So God chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise; He chose what the world considers weak, a poor unmarried girl, in order to shame the strong; and, He chose what the world looks down on as common and regards as nothing—Nazareth, and the laughable nobodies, a seemingly cuckold Joseph, an insignificant carpenter—and, He’s made them The Chosen.
Genesis 1 & 1 Corinthians 1
Open your eyes and believe again, my wistful girl. Let your mind imagine and your eyes refuse to see what we do not know. Embrace the mystery of this season of Advent, this season of waiting in the darkness for the Light to come again.
But do not look for this light in anything that we have labeled beautiful and worthy. I promise you it will not be in that convincing but artificial light.
My advice? Look for this light dwelling with an orphan boy who lives under the stairs. Look for this light packed up in the knapsacks of Halflings on their way to Rivendell. Seek the star with Grey Wizards, Fauns, and talking beavers who have spent their lives listening to the cosmos.
And, keep watch of all borders for caravans of the marginalized and the voiceless traveling along the fringes, seeking the manger—seeking sanctuary in a new Kingdom with a Savior. Hear them move beneath the cover of night across deserts, and with cracked lips and parched tongues hear them cry out, “O Wisdom! O Sacred Lord! O Root of Jesse! O Key of David! O Radiant Dawn! O King of All Nations! O Emmanuel! Come, Lord Jesus, come!”