In November I bought an Advent calendar for my kids, in keeping with family tradition. Behind each window is a small piece of chocolate and a Scripture verse that tells a little of the Christmas story.
When all the windows are closed, the calendar depicts a lovely scene: Mary and Joseph and a few tidy shepherds huddle closely around a well-fed baby, cozy under a pile of blankets, surrounded by fresh hay. Two suspiciously medieval kings kneel before him, and a well-behaved sheep looks on. The group has artistically arranged itself in front of an elegant redbrick-and-stone stable that, while rustic, looks to have been cleaned recently. The night is clear and star-lit—all is calm, and all is bright.
If the savior of the world had to be born in ancient times, this is where he should have been born, right? After all, cleanliness is next to godliness—these are his kind of shepherds.
Or are they?
On the first Sunday in Advent, my family and I gathered around a wreath equipped with four candles and lit the first after reading Isaiah 60:2–3:
"Darkness as black as night covers all the nations of the earth, but the glory of the LORD rises and appears over you. All nations will come to your light; mighty kings will come to see your radiance."
This is a passage about the kind of hope that erupts when God does something magnificent among mortals. The kind of hope that came to earth when Jesus fulfilled thousands of years of prophecy and expectation and placed himself at the mercy of a clumsy new mother and a poor carpenter, huddling for survival in a dirty barn.1