Most of us want God to work in a fast and flashy way. God tends to take the slow and subtle path most of the time.

Take the Christmas story. If you were God and wanted to save the world from the power of sin and the powers of Sin, wouldn’t you get right to it? Wouldn’t you send a scientist with a cure for misplaced desire that would stem the tide of trespassing? Wouldn’t you materialize as a man fully grown, gather up a coalition of the willing and march on Jerusalem to defeat Rome and plant the flag of God’s kingdom atop Mt. Zion once and for all?

Instead we get the story of a God who comes at last only after a young girl RSVPs “Yes” to an angelic invitation. The divine would take on human form in what would “seem” the usual manner. Life is conceived within the womb of a woman quietly and secretly. The child within develops the same as always, gestating gradually. The woman gives birth in the regular way, albeit amid baaing sheep and braying donkeys while out of town.

Jesus grew up as any child would, learning to be a man and answering the call to serve God. Thirty years or so after all this began, his ministry gets noticed enough to stir “the hopes and fears of all the years.” It would lead him to a cross and a tomb. Even the resurrection takes place out of sight — the tomb like a womb giving new birth. His powerful Spirit ways in our lives still tend toward the gentle and gradual.

The angels sang of peace on earth, good will to all. And we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” not just joy to us.
Benjamin Zander tells this parable: Four young men sit by the bedside of their dying father. The old man, with his last breath, tells them there is a huge treasure buried in the family fields. The sons crowd around him crying, “Where, where?” but it is too late. The day after the funeral and for many days to come, the young men go out with their picks and shovels and turn the soil, digging deeply into the ground from one end of each field to the other. They find nothing and, bitterly disappointed, abandon the search. The next season the farm has its best harvest ever.

Christmas began with a seed being planted in a hidden place that grew in time into a harvest of salvation. It didn’t happen suddenly. It still doesn’t, as the crop of every field is yet to ripen.

Christmas is itself a seed growing still. Proper Christmas hope aims for nothing less than the fulfillment of God’s created purposes for the whole world. We await a new creation, a peaceable kingdom, a just and equitable sharing of resources, and the restored dignity of all human beings to the image of God.

The season has been coopted by loud and commercial interests. It has been narrowed by believers to become a story only of Christian inheritance. But the angels sang of peace on earth, good will to all. And we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” not just joy to us.

So until then, we wait patiently. We wait for ourselves and on behalf of our neighbors. We believe before we see. We believe in order to see.

And in the waiting, we sing.