Expected and Unexpected

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Slywka and his wife Sarah excitedly await the arrival of their new little one – a precious gift from God. Jonathan spends his time riding his bike, exploring God’s Story, and reminding the people of Glen Elm “whose” and “who” they are.]

Those who know me will surely roll their eyes – they have heard me say it a hundred times – but I have been deeply affected by the music of Andrew Peterson. It was my sister Jill who first placed his Christmas album, Behold the Lamb of God, in my hands (Jill has this gift of finding and sharing musical gems). At first, I must confess, I took little notice. “Just another Christmas album,” I must have thought, though there was little denying a certain quirkiness about the thing; songs about Moses (What on earth does Moses have to do with Christmas anyways?!), prophets, even the “begats” of Matthew 1, hinted at the fact that this was unlike any Christmas album I had ever heard.

jonThen, I began to listen, and the beautiful music, communicating a rich understanding of scripture, started to affect me. What I began to see is that the Christmas story cannot be understood apart from its historical and scriptural context – lifted, sanitized and spiritualized, from the first century Jewish world in which it happened – rather, it needs to be understood as the culmination of the whole history of the people of Israel, of God’s dealing with and through his chosen people to accomplish his purpose for the world.

Having said that, we must also be careful to stress that God’s shocking Advent among us could not have been predicted by Jesus’ contemporaries, if only they had been paying closer attention (nor can we fully comprehend the deep mystery of God’s Incarnation, even with the advantage of Spiritual insight and 2000 years of processing time); not even the Jewish religious leaders, who were steeped in their own scriptures to an extent that none of us can appreciate, expected God to show up in the way he did. Reflecting on this, Karl Barth has said:

Not for one moment was it possible to say (that the whole of human history was bound to have its culminating point in Jesus Christ)…Of course in retrospect we may and must say that here history is fulfilled. But fulfilled in a truth which, looked at from the standpoint of all historical results, is completely novel and offensive! To the Greeks foolishness, to the Jews a stumbling-block.

Although God’s revelation as “the Word became flesh” could never have been guessed or figured out in advance, what Peterson invites us to do is stand alongside those first Christians, who came to realize the significance of who this child, this man, was and is. They began to see that many of the richest themes of their scriptures – of exile and return, of mercy of judgement, of promised king and suffering servant – were woven right through the Christmas event, and the whole subsequent life of Jesus that they would go on to recount in the Gospels. And they realized, with the same astounding illumination of an angel chorus breaking through the darkness of a pastoral night, that Jesus truly is “the missing piece in the puzzle…that makes all the other pieces fit together”.

Could this really be true: that “every story in the Bible whispers His name”, or, as Paul says to the Colossians, “in Him all things hold together”? In the music of Andrew Peterson I have found an invitation to explore such joyous mysteries, and I would extend that same invitation to you this Advent season.

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