Marty Troyer lives in Houston Texas, which is still recovering from one of the worst natural disasters in United States history: an August hurricane named Harvey. He is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church and the author of The Gospel Next Door: Following Jesus Right Where You Are.
O Lord, I have heard of your renown,
and I stand in awe, O Lord, of your work.
In our own time revive it;
in our own time make it known;
in wrath may you remember mercy.
God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran. Selah
His glory covered the heavens,
and the earth was full of his praise.
The brightness was like the sun;
rays came forth from his hand,
where his power lay hidden.
Before him went pestilence,
and plague followed close behind.
He stopped and shook the earth;
he looked and made the nations tremble.
The eternal mountains were shattered;
along his ancient pathways
the everlasting hills sank low. (Habakkuk 3:2-6)
In the last week of August, the United States experienced an epic natural event. Knowing it was coming, we spent days preparing. As it unfolded we were glued to our TV’s or stood outside awestruck. It just kept going and going. The ancient’s, almost planetwide, interpreted this as an omen or message from the divine. It signaled the end of the world and the myths and tales they told are as epic as the event itself.
I’m talking, of course, about the total solar eclipse! Seriously, wasn’t that amazing? I can’t wait till 2024 when the next one comes. Were you lucky enough to see it? We had friends in Houston vacation in Missouri so their kids could experience it. From my niece in Oregon to those gathered at the Mennonite church in Beatrice, Nebraska, to the last sighting on the east coast, I sat in my office glued to the live TV broadcasts. I wept nearly every time someone shouted, “And there it is! The diamond ring!” Check out this video to reboot that feeling.
The authors of our Scriptures loved using natural images to illustrate spirituality. For them, nature points us to God, “The heavens declare your handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1) Nature is part of God’s just provision for all: God “makes it rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) And nature helps us understand our own identity, “The Lord formed humanity out of the dust.” (Genesis 2:7)
Indigenous theologian Randy Woodley says, “The central vision of world history in the Bible is that all of creation is one, every creature in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every creature.”
And what is Christmas if not the final spoken word affirming our humanness? God became human (John 1:14) because being human is good and wonderful.
Twenty-six centuries ago the prophet Habakkuk pictured God as a solar ray strong enough to push pestilence and plague out of the land, destabilize unjust nations and make every mountain and hill low. “I stand in awe of your work!” he cries out.
The culture gap makes it a little unclear what historical events his poetry celebrates. But the themes of health care, politics and economics are repeated in Mary’s Christmas song, John the Baptist’s first sermon about Jesus, and the life and teachings of the incarnated one himself. Habakkuk’s line that God “made the nations tremble” is a great description of how unsettling the Christmas story was to Herod the king Jesus came to depose.
At Christmas we celebrate more than the coming of personal salvation and change. We celebrate God’s kingdom of shalom coming and having come.
In my book, The Gospel Next Door, I say it like this: “Indeed, the one irreducible gospel truth that shapes and reshapes the church is that God’s love is not limited-not to souls or eternal reward, not to bodies or politics, not to human or divine relationships. God’s love is for the world and everything in it. Thankfully, that includes you and me!”
That sparks a deep longing in me, a restless churning that is sometimes angry and sometimes hopeful. Because I’m ready for that kingdom to come. I’m hungry for the Christmas that was promised, not the Christmas that’s being sold. I yearn for someone to clean up the mess we’ve made. Habakkuk says it better than I can, “In our own time revive it; in our own time make it known.” (3:2)
Yes, God of Christmas, come sweep away the pestilence of sexual assault through the power of #metoo. Push out the plague of racism unmasked in America everyday through anthem protests and #Blacklivesmatter. Shake the nations out of our M.A.D. nuclear schemes. And yes by all means bring down what Jenny Castro called “systems that exploit and neglect the poor and the marginalized.”
This Christmas let us cry out for the coming of God’s kingdom in our here and now world. Come God, make it known!
If you’ve got some time I invite you to reflect on the following questions. What part of the world’s brokenness stirs your heart and passion? What wrong do you feel passionate about righting? What would your family, work or neighborhood look like if our prayers for God’s kingdom to come were answered?
Read previous Advent reflections and sign up to receive our 2017 daily Advent devotionals in your e-mail inbox.