Holy Brokenness

Picture of lighted candles during the Longest Night Service at Marshfield Christian Church.

I’m sure you already know this, but I think it bears repeating: Christmas lights are bright. You’re probably thinking something like, “Well, Alex, of course they are!” Or, “It’s finally happened, he’s lost his mind…” It’s a simplistic statement, I know. But there is a deeper meaning as well. You see, all the illuminated houses, businesses, and trees in our world do more than shine a light of hope for the coming of Christ. For many of us those same twinkling lights spotlight the very real cracks in our lives.

Christmas is about celebrating the coming of Christ. Yes, the first time that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us, but also the promised return of Christ. Even as we celebrate the babe in the manger, we look past that idyllic scene, past the cross, pass the empty tomb, and into the future where God’s promises to make all things new; to put an end to death, and crying and pain. And, if you’re anything like me, that also highlights the brokenness in our lives.

Because there is crying, and pain, and death, and terror, and anxiety, and hopelessness, and brutality, and animosity, and division, and … and … and …

There are very real fissures our lives, in this world. We are broken people, in a broken world. We are Advent people, expectantly waiting for Christ to come in a new and profound way. Hoping for God’s presence in our midst. Praying for peace, yearning for joy, aching for love…

But those pesky lights … they make visible the cracks we so diligently try to hide, the places where the mortar in the walls we have built to protect ourselves has sloughed off and made us vulnerable. I love the warmth of the light, but it makes it hard to hide those fractures.

We try to put on a brave face. Try to hide the tears that well up in our eyes. Cover the anxiety which balls up in our throat and chokes off the air.

But the reality is that we are broken.

But broken isn’t necessarily bad.

Being cracked is the only way to let the light of God into those innermost parts of our lives, where the seeds of hope are buried deep. And only when the light of love can find its way into those dark corners of our lives can those seeds spring to life. Only then can a shoot spring up from the dead stump, only then can the spark of hope light the candle of life.

So, there is holiness in being broken. Sacred hope in being shattered. Joy to be found in ruptured lives.

Because it is in the midst of our pain and our sorrow that Christ comes. When we think of the second coming of Jesus, we often think of him coming as a conquering hero. A friend and colleague of mine, Thom Shuman, puts it this way: when we think of Jesus returning we imagine him “diving out of the sky on a white horse, leading the heavenly host (probably heavily armed) to put an end to all the terrible things we do to others (or what they do to us, more than likely). [We] anticipate cemeteries erupting like volcanoes, as the chosen are carried up to heaven; [we] look for the seas to boil, the sky to fall, and all sorts of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious things to happen.”

However, that’s the same misunderstanding of God’s entry into the world that occurred over 2000 years ago. People assumed that the Messiah, God’s deliverer would come to conquer the powers of this world that kept God’s people confined. But God had different plans. Jesus wasn’t born in a palace; he was born in a stable.

Thom calls us to imagine a similar situation when Christ comes again: “Instead of longing for a new Jerusalem where on the privileged, the few, the elect are welcomed, perhaps it is when justice returns to our cities, to our rural areas, to every place where the most vulnerable live and hope, where the broken yearn for healing, where the lost wander looking for community, where every person is loved and valued and accepted, that we will recognize Jesus is in our midst again.

Just when we think God will (finally) become return to be one of us again, we will find God is already one of us in the children born in poverty, in the parents working three jobs, in the needy who offer all they have to others, in the lonely who offer a shoulder to the grieving to cry on, in the stranger who cares for us better than our family, and in the most vulnerable who are the least judgmental of the most privileged.”

This Christmas season, it is my deepest prayer that we forsake trying to hide our brokenness. God is not ashamed of our fragmented lives, so we need not be ashamed. Instead may we see our brokenness for what it is, a pathway for God’s presence to enter into our lives and the world. May we rest assured in the promise that the Word is made flesh and it dwells among us. Not in the unblemished, idyllic images of the holiday season; but rather in the dusty, dank, no-room-at-the-inn, often-overlooked, cracked, lives that we offer to God.

My Christmas wish for you, for us all, is that we truly experience the holy in our brokenness.

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