It’s a cold December night, less than a week from Christmas. The third Friday of Advent, to be exact. In two days, I’m going home. Home to Kansas for the holidays.
This is a season that swings from joy to sadness rather quickly and unexpectedly, but I’m on the joy side of it these days. I’ve been seeing depressing movies like they’re going out of style, reading depressing books, and watching the news (more depressing than usual it seems). But in spite of my best efforts to wallow in midwinter moodiness, I’ve been overwhelmed with happiness and cheer. Overwhelmed to the point of tears (of joy).
Joy to the world. The Lord is come. Let every heart prepare him room.
It’s a joy, I think, of recognizing the smallness of oneself, while at the same time noticing the ways in which God seems to pay attention to you. That's when the joy weighs heaviest, when we see that it has absolutely nothing to do with what we’ve done, but everything to do with who we are. That is: who God is making us and shaping us to be.
This realization typically happens around this time of year for me, when I survey the year, write my little Christmas update letter (yeah, I still do that), and think about what I’ve done, who I’ve met, where I’ve gone, etc. As I was driving into L.A. last night for a Christmas party with some church friends, I had one of those “wow, I have been so blessed,” moments when all the faces of the people I’d shared my year with came parading into my head, not in a random montage of unrelated images, but in a sort of kaleidoscope of linkage and interconnectedness. It was one of those moments when I could vaguely, powerfully glimpse a little of the divine orchestration that is at work behind all of this mad, beautiful mess.
Because I do believe that this is the case. I’m convinced that this all makes sense—my part in it, your part in it, the fires and snow and cherry pies. It makes sense on a level of sense-making that is only graspable in the way that the universe is graspable through telescopes. We can see parts of it, and in that we can infer the greatness of the whole and feel the surrogate wonder.
So it was in my car, driving on the 10 through downtown L.A., listening to my “80s heroin shoegazer” Christmas mix. I was overwhelmed by the realization that so much was so clearly happening for a reason. My job, my house, my friends, my car, the things I hear and say, write and read, fear and love… It all fits into the stories and people and places that precede it. It is all very messy and imperfect and frequently painful, but it ultimately isn’t about me or my comfort.
As a Christian, I believe that I am part of God’s church—that is, his extension of himself (via the Holy Spirit) on earth, a mission-minded body of humans that are the hands and feet of a much larger force, working in and for the world. I also believe that this happens largely in spite of ourselves, and that left to our own devices we would probably just constantly be f-ing things up.
God sent Jesus to earth to start something new. And start something new he did. But the new world that began with baby Jesus in a manger is now a world that a wider body of mortals is asked to participate in, to develop more fully and to expand, looking towards the time when all will be redeemed, made right, and reconciled. It will be God who brings this about. Only he can make things as they should be. But he asks his people—the church—to live in such a way that aspires to and expects this glory.
And in that, we sometimes see glimpses of things we can barely understand. We taste the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5). I think we all can experience this. I think it’s what I’ve been experiencing these Advent days.