All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants’ windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
While the sky darkens and freezes
Will be gathering around the hearths and tables
Giving thanks for God’s graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Jackson Browne, The Rebel Jesus

My younger daughter, Leah, came by on Sunday with her husband to decorate my house for Christmas. Once we had the lights and decorations up on the tree, Leah went about putting up other sentimental decorations around the house. Doorknob hangers. An angel candleholder. Kermit the Frog decked out in his Christmas vest. And, of course, the creche.

It’s a nice creche as creches go. There is a wooden structure where Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus can reside. Outside are some shepherds—one holding a lamb on his shoulders—and the three wise men. (A couple of years ahead of their time, but let’s not be picky here, ok?) And of course a sheep and a donkey.

I’m looking at the creche right now. It is on a counter between my coffee room (it’s actually a wet bar, but as I don’t really imbibe that often in adult beverages, but drink an inordinate amount of coffee, I made this into my coffee room) and the family room. Right now it is sitting in the dark. I can barely make out the various figures in the scene. If you were to walk into my house right now, chances are you wouldn’t even notice it. Just like those in Israel at the time of Jesus’ birth.

In Israel it was a time of great darkness. For hundreds of years the nation had been under the heel of oppressors. Now it was Rome’s turn to rule this backwater country. Yes, Israel had a “king,” Herod, a puppet elected “king of the Jews” by the Roman senate. Herod considered himself a Jew, but was not observant in the Jewish law or customs. He was in this for the power and the perks. Rome was there to keep the pesky Jews in line. Israel was a conquered country in every respect.

It was a dark time spiritually as well. Those few who still sought after God were desperate to hear from him, but God had gone silent. There were no new prophetic revelations at this time. Men and women seeking God could only remember the past. God seemed to have forsaken them in the present. These were dark times indeed.

The religious at that time certainly were looking for Jesus’ birth. Or, to be more precise, the coming of the Messiah. They were crying out for a Victorious King who would lead the overthrow of the Roman control of their country and Israel would once again be free. The Messiah would set all things right. He would “take Israel back for God.” After all, Israel was founded as a godly nation. Once the Messiah came, all those liberals who suggested the Jews and the Romans should learn to get along would see the error in their ways or they could just pack up and move to Egypt. Once the Messiah arrived, then the Jewish religion would really take hold. Everyone would follow the laws and traditions then.  They looked for this Messiah to appear at the Temple in Jerusalem, or perhaps to first overthrow Herod in his palace, and then come riding into the City of Kings on a white horse with a valiant army marching with him.

What they didn’t expect, or even consider, was that God would sneak into Israel as a baby conceived out of wedlock. That he would be born in a cave where livestock were fed and housed. That the mother would be a young teenage girl of no account, and her husband—not the baby’s father—would be a blue-color worker. No one saw that this baby would not grow up to ride a white horse into Jerusalem to set things right, but would ride a simple donkey on his way to die.

The religious leaders were looking for a Messiah who would lead a political, and perhaps military, revolution. They never foresaw one who could care less about politics, or religion for that matter. They wanted a poster child for law and traditions. They couldn’t imagine the Anointed One hanging out with tax collectors, fisherman, whores, lepers and other outcasts. They wanted one to usher in a Thousand Year Reign for Israel. They got a Messiah who lived barely three decades and then died as a criminal. They were looking for a massive fire, and they missed the candle.

Let me try to bring us back to where we are today. From where I am sitting, Jesus is in the dark. I can’t see him. I mean both baby Jesus in my creche, and Jesus in my life. Things have been dark for some time in my life. I’ve been looking for Jesus’ arrival, waiting for him to come and bring the light. But I have a sneaking suspicion he is not going to come in the way I think he should. I have a feeling that he will surprise me with something other than I was thinking. That he will show up as a rebel to my ways. That he will come in a way that goes against the ways I always thought he would come, that he will overturn tables and bring me into disreputable circumstances. For that is the way Jesus came into our world. We weren’t looking in the direction of Bethlehem. We didn’t even notice the shepherds running toward a hovel where a young girl lay on bloody straw after giving birth. We didn’t see him coming at all.

It’s Advent, which means “coming.” Oh, we can look at our calendars and know just how many days we have until Christmas. We know when the Light will arrive. At least we know the day we will celebrate when the Light first arrived. Those in Israel in 4 B.C. didn’t know when he would come. As far as they knew, their darkness would last forever. I can say that the Light has come into the world, but when will he come into MY world? When will he come into yours?

And then when he arrives, we find he has been here all along. It is part of the great mystery. Darkness is not darkness to him. “Waiting patiently” has no meaning for the one who created time. He Was, and Is, and Will Be. It’s just that we wasn’t where we were looking, and he isn’t ever here in the time we want him, and he won’t be the way we think he should be. He is the Rebel Jesus, and was, even at his birth. If we expect him to be anything else, we are making a god with our own hands rather than accepting God has he knows himself to be.

In this time of darkness, this time of desperate expectancy, what if you were to let go of the way you think Jesus should come, and instead allow him to come in his way to you. What if Jesus were to come to you in a way you never expected him to? Would you still be glad for the light, or would you want to flee back into your safe and familiar dark corner? He is coming, you know. You can’t stop him. All you can do is decide if you will live in the Light, or cling to the dark.

Jeff Dunn