By Larry Baker
During the middle of worship recently, I asked myself, “Why did it take so long?” Mentally I underscored “so long?” Two carols triggered the query: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus.” God’s ancient people lived, and died, with the promise unfulfilled for what seemed like an eternity. I know: Paul declared the promise became reality “when the fullness of time had come” (Galatians 4:4, NRSV), but I still wonder, “Why did it take so long?”
We know questions. Question marks play a leading role in the script of living and occupy a prominent place in the grammar of life. The question mark is one of our punctuation marks because questions are part of the lives of every one of us.
Questions have a central place in the Bible. The God of the Bible is a God who asks questions. Jesus himself is a man of questions. The people of God we meet in the pages of the Bible also know how to ask questions.
Nevertheless, questions seem out of place during Advent. This is the season for celebration and joy. This is a time for announcement and affirmation. These are days for parades and parties, for happy hearts and laughter. These are days of “Joy to the World” and “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.” Questions have dogged our lives before Christmas and are sure to come beyond Bethlehem; but, for now, they seem out of place.
But there is good news. We don’t have to lay aside the questions that plague us when Advent breaks. We don’t have to hustle them off into the back rooms of our lives as though we are embarrassed by their arrival at the family reunion. Instead, Christmas invites us to bring our questions to the cradle of Bethlehem and ask them there.
Take another look at the birth stories in Mathew and Luke. You will discover that the Christmas story has its questions too. Before ever the heavenly courier speaks to Joseph in a dream, the carpenter questions the most fitting way to deal with Mary. Mary, a chaste teenager living her life in commitment, devotion, and hope, is stunned by the angel’s announcement and asks, “How can this be since I have no husband?” In turn, Zechariah, already a member of the AARP, and Elisabeth, Mary’s cousin, ask questions. When the forerunner of Jesus is born and Zechariah announces the child’s name, the people ask, “What then will this child be?” Magi and Herod alike ask questions.
I, for one, am relieved and encouraged by those questions planted firmly in the Christmas story. Here is a God who is not embarrassed by questions. This God does not say to me, “No. No. You shouldn’t ask that.” Rather God takes my questions seriously because God takes me seriously.
God is like the mother who says, “Katelyn, go ahead, ask your question. We will see if we can find the answer.” Or God is like the teacher who says to a student, “Thomas, that’s a good question. Let’s put together an answer to it
Many of us come to this Advent season with questions. For some, familiar landmarks are gone. Institutions we have counted on have tumbled. People in whom we have trusted have failed us.
Values we cherished have been discarded by many around us. The maps we used for our living do not match the countryside in which we now travel.
Some of us are feeling the harsh power of the hard blows of human experience. Death has taken cherished loved ones from us and Christmas will be tinged with tears and sadness. Disease has riddled the bodies of some of us and broken health has taken up residence in our own bodies. Our love for others has given birth to hurts and disappointments that nag us constantly. Some of us feel the power of the old cliché, “If I didn’t have bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all. We come to Advent filled with questions.
Back now to the music of worship. The mood shifted from longing to announcement: “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” This one “dispels…the darkness everywhere….from sin and death He saves us….lightens every load.”
Advent brings good news. It comes wrapped in swaddling clothes and crying under the night sky. It comes in the unusual birth of a remarkable baby.
Listen again to the music of the season: “Come to Bethlehem and see Him whose birth the angels sing.” Here is the way through our questions. Christmas invites us to bring our questions to the cradle of Bethlehem and ask them there. Advent assures us that we can bring our questions to the God who came among us and ask them, with no hesitation and without embarrassment.
Larry Baker is director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Hardin-Simmons University.