Advent: Foolishness or Mystery?
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
1 Corinthians 1:18-21
Not only is the message of the cross foolishness to the scholars of this world, so is the story of the nativity; God becoming flesh that he might save men and women, young and old, even babes in the womb who have not seen the light of day. I never would have believed it if I did not see with my own eyes the furious, raging frustration today in those who consider themselves the “brilliant minds of the world, as they “pull out their hair over Christmas celebration in the public square, or anything smelling of Christianity, offending their “scientific nostrils and “superior minds to no end. Such consternation seems particularly explosive each time the Advent/Christmas season dares to come round once again. Despite their fairly successful war to cleanse public schools and government grounds of any and all expression of Christmas; despite the fact that the only reason December 25 is a national holiday, and that Thanksgiving to the end of December is vastly different from all the rest of the year, simply because the birth of Jesus Christ has been celebrated for centuries around the globe; its message cannot be silenced. It is there to be heard for those whose ears are open to hear; in every carol, in numerous symbols, in countless homes, in myriads of churches, in movies, plays, books, radio and television, and in the book that has been with us for thousands of years, the Bible, the nativity story lives because it is real. And because it is real it places demands on each and every life.
But in reality by the measuring standards of the world the story of Christmas, the Advent of the Messiah, is “foolishness. A young Jewish girl, still a virgin, yet mysteriously pregnant, avoids stoning even though her betrothed husband never had sexual relations with her. She is forced to travel on a donkey in her ninth month because both she and her husband are of the lineage of the House of David and therefore required to register, pregnancy or not, in David’s place of birth, Bethlehem. She has her first child in the most primitive, unhygienic, and uncomfortable place imaginable, with no help of a midwife other than her husband. Shepherds, stirred in their hearts by a most unscientific announcement by alien beings lighting up the night sky, come directly to the stable where they find the Savior of the world: an hours-old infant. Sometime later when the infant has become a toddler, scholars from a distant land directed by astronomical signs in the sky and a star that stops over the place where the child lives, come to worship him, bringing strange gifts. The gold is not so strange really, but frankincense and myrrh certainly are, though not without purpose. A king with great power and soldiers at his beck and call attempts to have the child murdered by killing all male infants and toddlers of Bethlehem in the expected age range; yet the young Jesus with his parents escape to the neighboring country of Egypt, fulfilling a centuries old promise. The details go on and on, but no one can doubt the “foolishness of the story, at least from the world’s perspective.
An old Spanish proverb goes, “Every man is a fool in some man’s opinion. The nativity of Jesus, just as the Gospel itself, is indeed foolishness in the opinion of many who are wise in their own eyes. It is not foolish to the One who alone defines foolishness. He says, “The fool says in his heart there is no God, and “The message of the cross (and the stable) is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. There is no doubt that the nativity, the cross, and the gospel are steeped in mystery, but mystery simply because it is mystery does not equate to foolishness, as those who think they are wise claim. The Apostle Paul, with wisdom from God hungered for the saints to experience the “full riches of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:2-3)
We cannot deny that there is great mystery in the nativity as there is in Christ, himself, but mystery does not make it or him to be foolishness. Rather, foolishness resides in those who refuse to un-wrap the mystery of the ages and instead scorn the gift that gives forever. If the Christmas story holds no mystery for you worth dwelling upon this Advent season, you need to dig below the surface of shallow thinking and behold “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
“O come, thou Dayspring from on high And cheer us by thy drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
“O come, thou Key of David, come And open wide our heavenly home; Make safe the way that leads on high, And close the path to misery.
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel……………….. shall come to thee, O Israel.
(4th and 5th verses of a 12th Century Latin hymn of Advent)
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