Oh how weary is the world, in these final weeks of a long, brutal, confusing year. But Advent is here. Jesus is coming back. And for this thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
I love the season of Advent for a lot of reasons, not least the way it embraces the messiness of existence in a manner appropriate to the chaos of the month in which it falls.
But today I've been thinking about the way that Advent forces us to reflect on time in a unique way, in both looking back and looking forward, remembrance and imagination of times past and times to come. The fact that today is my birthday aids in my reflection. Birthdays are steps out of time in a weird way, "just another day" but also not. They are 24 hours long just like any day, but they hold a disproportionate place in our memories and our hopes. They are kairosmoments (as opposed to chronos), and as such they remind us that time is less mundane and more miraculous than we often give it credit.
Advent is a season of light and dark. As much as the media and the prevailing spirit of the season tries to frame Christmastime as an endless array of cheer and merriment, there's no getting around the reality of our dark, treacherous, weary world. But it's better that way. The light shines brighter in the dark. Advent celebrates the moment when true light entered into our dark world. "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Is. 9:2).
Christmas has in our culture become associated with all things "cheer," "goodwill," and "merriment": eggnog, Santa Clause, white elephant parties, sparkly sweaters, twinkly lights and tinsel galore. And for good reason. This is a holiday inspired by the coming of the world's salvation in the form of Jesus Christ. Joy to the world indeed. The Incarnation is a reason to take heart, to be joyful, to feel good about life. And yet the Advent season is also unmistakably somber. It has a dark side
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if we could remember as far back as the moment of our birth—that slimy, turbulent transition from the comfort of a warm, dark womb into the unkind cold, harsh bright light of life outside. What emotions, thoughts, hopes, and fears would accompany such a memory? As it is, I can only remember about 27 of my 30 years... my memories begin around age three. When Jesus turned 30, could he recall the moment of his own birth? That epic, heavenly-hosts-rejoicing mystery in which God incarnate dwelled within a teenage girl's womb one minute, and cried and breathed in Bethlehem air the next? Was his memory God-like and infinite, or was it as limited as mine, recalling only shadows and bursts of nascent consciousness from his earliest years?
It's not about me. I'm just a speck of dust on a tiny grain of sand on a little planet in a medium sized galaxy, which itself is a speck of dust in the scope of the cosmos. And yet, ironically, this is what Jesus appeared to be too, that dark night in the dirty manger so many years ago. Indeed, humility can do great things for the world.
Like Adam before us, and Noah, and Abraham and Israel, followers of Jesus are called to bring light to the darkness; to spread the illumination like in those candle light Christmas Eve services of our youth; or like that little blue candle and mysterious wispy flame in The Tree of Life. It's Ruach. The Spirit of God. Reminding us of hope, empowering us to carry on.
Oh Jesus, come. The world groans for you. The streets are bloody and the debts are rising. There are riots all around, anxieties about the future, 72-day marriages, 5th grader suicides, political stalemates, crashes of every sort, too-high heating bills, faucets that don't work, pencils that smear instead of erase, milk that goes sour, teeth that get cavities, and cancer that keeps coming back. Messiah, come.
When most people think of movies for December/Christmas, they think Frank Capra, Christmas Vacation or Home Alone. Which are all great. But the season of Advent is not just about twinkling lights, feel-good family reunions, and Macaulay Culkin-burns-Joe-Pesci's-head gags. It's also about feeling the tension of waiting... for redemption, for justice, for the renewal of all things. It's about waiting with anticipation for better days, knowing they are coming because God became man and paved a way.
The Christmas Eve candlelight services are more than just a nice symbolic act of remembrance, however. They are the continuation of a biblical tradition of likening Christ to images of light and darkness. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light,” wrote the prophet Isaiah (9:2). “On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”
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.
Yesterday I read this Newsweek article that attempts to debunk the apparently misguided biblical argument against gay marriage. I will say nothing more about it, except that the article hammered home one major point: Christianity and the Bible are frightfully misunderstood.
Though Thanksgiving is not a part of the liturgical season of Advent, I think it fits perfectly as segue or entry point into this period of the church calendar.