I’m not a fan of parades. The idea of sitting on a curb and casually observing people walk in formation is right up there with giving blood or taking down Christmas decorations. Parades are an entirely different experience if you’re a little kid, though. For most kids, parades are magical festivals.
To celebrate the first days of winter, Kristin and I took our three kids downtown Chicago to see the lighting of Michigan Ave. I took some vacation time and arranged to stay at a family member’s really nice apartment overlooking the Chicago river, Michigan Ave in sight from our couch. That couch came in handy, because it rained the whole time we were in the city and we watched the parade from the apartment. Occasionally we’d look out the window and see a float pass by, and we’d turn to the TV to see it was the characters from Frozen or a musician. Even though we weren’t on the curb, it didn’t stop our kids from the anticipation that at some point in the parade would be Mickey Mouse and at the end of this parade was a Santa Claus.
“Mickey’s coming! Santa’s coming!” Squealing, they would race to the window to catch a glimpse of their life-long friends.
Parades are all about anticipation and arrival. The whole thing is simply a movement of our most celebrated people, promised to be there, now arriving on the scene right before our very eyes. Adults know these characters are going to disappear back into regular people who have day jobs and student loans. But kids are enraptured with the beauty, majesty, friendliness and celebrity of the character. For a brief moment, Santa has come. It’s Christmas.
In a similar way, we see in human history this progressive movement, this parade, so to speak. Godward people from generation to generation share a godward message regarding the arrival of God. The prophets each took their turn, one by one proclaiming to the nations the rule and reign of Almighty God. When the prophets spoke, it was received as the literal words of God to the people. And receiving God’s words meant people were receiving God himself. He was moving toward them.
At one point in the proclamation parade of the prophets, Isaiah declared this promise:
When Matthew tells the story, he includes this verse in his account and translates the name Immanuel for us, which means "God with us," or rather, "God has come." Later, the prophet Micah took his turn in the parade:
The main attraction in this parade of prophets isn’t Mickey Mouse or Santa Claus, but the eternally promised ruler, a son divinely and miraculously born to a virgin, whose coming is literally “God with us.” The prophets gave voice to the eager anticipation embedded within humanity, crying out to God, “Come!” And simultaneously God assured his people, saying, “I will come!”
The Advent season is wrapped up in this one longing and promise: Come! For centuries now, Christians celebrate the Advent season as a time of preparation and promise, anticipation and arrival, the fact that God said he would come and he did.
Advent draws our attention to the story of Christmas as a story of movement. Joseph and Mary are required by law to move back home. Angels announce the birth and move the shepherds to find the baby. Non-Jewish astrologers see the star and move across national borders to find the child. The baby even grows up and launches the greatest movement in history. But greatest of all, Advent reminds us that God moves. The full sense of Christmas is remembering how God bridged the divide between heaven and earth by moving in our direction and living among us. He arrived. He has come.
Today, the Christmas season is more than ever about movement and arrivals. Companies like Amazon spend billions on logistics to get packages where they are destined to arrive. Many families I know make elaborate plans for when they will spend time with one another, the anticipation building. Mom eagerly awaits the return of her kids. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” plays nonstop, fueling our excitement for celebrating with those who matter most.
There is a spiritual metaphor found in the movement of Christmas today. Something deeply spiritual is happening in the anticipation we feel when we track packages online or circle dates on calendars when our family members will arrive. We are anticipating the arrival of something grand. With a little bit of awareness, we can see how the emotion of excitement and longing really reveals our deeper longing and deeper excitement for something even greater than smiling cardboard boxes and grandkids. We are remembering the greater one who has come to us, our God.
Often the collection of packages and family members assemble around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning. It may not be a tradition found in the pages of Scripture, but in many ways this precious moment of celebration reminds us of the parade of God’s promises, that he would come and rule. God wrapped himself up and delivered himself right to our door so that we might rejoice that our King has come.