Folks, I’m here to tell you that American parents have missed out on a real opportunity. Every year, Christmas comes around and brings with it reminders to be good so that Santa Claus will bring presents. A few centuries ago in Central Europe, however, parents were warning their children about something much darker: Krampus. Every December 5th, so the story went, Krampus would come to visit justice upon deserving children. St. Nicholas would come the following night to visit those who had done well. But first, Krampus came to hand out punishment, delivering switches with which children could be beaten and even taking the worst offenders away. Somehow, an infernal goat-man bent on vengeance seems a more serious threat than an empty stocking or a handful of coal.
While the idea of risking childhood emotional trauma is admittedly harsh, I think many of us resonate with the overall concept of Krampus; that is, that those who deserve it, get it. Those who’ve hurt us or the ones we’ve loved, those who have taken advantage of others, and those we just don’t like. Call it karma, call it Krampus, call it whatever else, many of us hope for or believe in such a balancing of the scales.
Unfortunately, in our ostensibly noble thirst for justice, we sometimes read suffering as the visitation of justice in real time. If that person is hurting or impoverished or cast out, they probably aren’t blameless in this. “Well, they’re no angel,” goes the refrain. This isn’t a new problem. Throughout Scripture, we find people trying to reverse engineer pain to find what earned it, whether it’s Job’s friends looking over the smoking crater of his life or Jesus disciples asking who had sinned to cause a man’s blindness. As in our own time, those not in suffering reason that something done by the afflicted merited or even caused this.
Consider today’s Advent text. Today, the third Sunday of Advent, Christians around the world are right now focusing on the theme of Joy. Totally makes sense for Christmas, right? Joy. Three little letters convey the image of Christmas with surprising profundity. Isaiah 35 is a fantastic text for looking at joy. The desert blooming, the fearful encouraged, the hurting healed, and joy exploding all around.
But we, like our predecessors, have a problem living it out. This text of messianic expectation clearly ties joy to the hurting finding relief…and yet those waiting on Messiah (and even those who physically walked with Messiah!) dismiss their pleas with a calm, “Well, they’re no angels.” A Christmas that offers joy only to the successful and healthy, those we assume must have done something right to get there, isn’t good news at all. It’s not even news! Such a Christmas would be the same old world carrying on as it is. But the radical and good news of Christmas is that Christ came for the sick, not the healthy. In this season in which we decorate with and sing about angels, Christ is seeking those we’ve dismissed as not being angels, bringing joy rather than the spirit of Krampus. May we do the same.