When I was a child the season of Advent seemed magical to me. A time of anticipation, largely of the food and presents that would come my way when the Advent candle finally burned down to 25. A time of joyous expectation. It tied in with the decorations in the town centre, with the Christmas music on the radio, with all of the trappings of Christmas in a Western country.
The older I became, the more the glitter and magic of Advent wore off. As I thought about the birth of Jesus it struck me that this was a rescue mission, a final and stunning act of lavish and proactive generosity on the part of a God who could not bear to be separated from his people. My rejoicing was replaced with wonder as I realised just how much humanity needed God, just how much God longed to be reunited with humanity, just how extreme and astonishing the rescue mission was.
And now in Pakistan Advent seems more miraculous, more bizarre, more incredible than ever. Most people here simply cannot believe that God would stoop to enter the world as a human: it would be beneath him, unworthy of his majesty. I can understand the objection. The incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is a phenomenon not seen in any other religion, at any other time, anywhere else in the world. How could a divinity lower himself to such a level? It is unthinkable that God would require food, would stub his toe, would cry. I understand the objection, though I do not agree with it. The aspect of God’s nature which makes the incarnation possible is the unthinkable depth and breadth of his love. He would do anything, anything, to be with his children. What father would do less?
Apart from Pakistani Christians, nobody here marks Christmas. Save for the gaudily-decorated lobbies of the expensive Western hotels there are no decorations, no Christmas songs, no Christmas adverts on TV. We celebrate it quietly. I enjoy this very much. It is in keeping with the season of Advent: a secret rescue mission, a tiny baby delivered in a humble room in an irrelevant backwater of the Roman Empire, welcomed by lowly shepherds. The baby who would go on to turn the world upside down after three decades in isolation. Jesus, the ultimate sleeper cell. Not many here know of him, but he is there, and his love is as broad and deep as it ever was.