Traditions stem from past stories, but they also come loaded with present expectations. In Jesus’ day, there were people who felt their hope for rescue from the Roman Empire rise when a baby boy was redeemed (Exod 13:14–15). But there were others who viewed those five shekels (Num 18:16) as bleak proof of God’s abandonment.
One of our cheese-fondue-tradition stories starts with bleak expectations, too. This particular year, we were seated in a Swiss restaurant, enjoying our bubbling fondue, when a shriek sounded from a nearby table. The burner fuel under that party’s fondue pot had spilled and flames were spreading across the tablecloth toward rapidly retreating guests.
My father leaped from his chair, grabbed his threadbare overcoat and threw it onto the fire. The flames extinguished and the restaurant returned to its happy hum. My father, however, returned to our table knowing that he had a whole week of Alpine winter to endure with no coat and no money to buy another one.
We were scraping the bottom of our fondue pot, when a gentleman approached the table. “I saw what you did,” he told my father. “And I notice you are about the same size as I am. Would you accept my coat? I have another at home.” So in exchange for the shapeless, patched thing my dad had worn into the restaurant, he left clothed in a beautiful, warm, wool garment.
To this day, my mother asks why Dad didn’t throw his shoes into the fire as well. Even after forty years, we still laugh at her joke and we still thank God for providing a substitute to keep Dad warm.
But we also wonder, will God provide for my need this year? Daniel and Violet and I are grateful for good coats in the Minnesota winter, but telling you stories of Christmas Eve fondue makes me wonder, will God clothe my homesickness?
Oh, I know. Cheese fondue? Most of our traditions don’t hold a candle to Jesus’ parents’ tradition. What’s holiday shopping compared with a baby-buy-back? But our traditions are what we do at Christmas-time, so for us, it is where Jesus will show up. And where the expectations of our hearts will be revealed. When you contemplate these few weeks of tradition and celebration, what do you expect?
Simeon expects to see God’s Messiah before he dies, but he’s an old man. When will God do this? One more time, he comes into the Temple, “looking for the consolation of Israel.” Receiving Jesus into his arms, he proclaims the baby boy “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for Israel.”
This is good news for Gentiles, God’s middle children and last-born, who stumble around in the darkness, trying to find their way back to Yahweh God. And it’s good news for Jews, who long for God’s glory to shine out, something to lighten the season, something to make them forget Rome’s burdens.
But the Greek here (Luke 2:31–32) contains an ominous element. Literally it reads “in everybody’s face, a light for disclosure to the Gentiles and brightness for Israel.” The same light that reveals my path of salvation, that acts like a search-light for the rescue operation, which will bring me home to Jesus, is also an interrogation light in my face and the bright light of sleep-deprivation.What hopes and fears have come to light this Advent season? How do you feel when these are exposed? What do you do with those expectations as you discover them?
Read the third installment: Recognizing Consolation.