I truly enjoy this Christmas season full of festive cheer: hanging lights on the fir tree, unpacking the ornaments and memories from a dusty Christmas bin, chestnuts roasting on an open fire, making snow angels, sipping egg nog, watching Home Alone, wrapping gifts. Christmas!
As I grow older, though, my eyes are obtaining new lenses to see the gorge that often lies between Christmas and Advent.
Though the wider culture doesn't use the term "Christmas" any more, in view of the diverse beliefs represented in Western culture, Christmas still stands a monolithic tree whose branches reach wide in the culture. We've built an entire consumer mindset as well as a strong dose of nostalgia from this festive season of giving, having transgressed a two-thousand millennia wide boundary water from the banks of Bethlehem's stable. For many, Christmas - or "the holidays" - is a wonderfully warm cup of cocoa that soothes the frozen tundra of our aching souls.
Under the spreading branches and delicious fruits of this Western Christmas experience (though it's not fun for all - many have painful memories at this season when they long for family members who have passed or grieve an inability to give presents to children), the roots of this season, however, can be unmistakably traced to nothing less than the history-altering Advent of the God-child upon planet earth. God made himself nothing and bore our pain so that we might wear the crown of his joy. You can't make up a script like that!
Advent is a focused time for believers in Christ to remember his first coming and wait longingly for his second coming. I feel the ache this year as much as ever.
How long, O Lord? How long will I wrestle with a body and mind which don't often agree with my heart and soul? How long will the poor suffer? How long will your earth be bludgeoned by capitalism? How long will your name be dishonored? How long will division, hatred, persecution and warfare continue to leak seemingly unchecked? How long will mothers and children have to flee their homes with empty bellies?
So, as it turns out, this isn't always the most wonderful time of the year. When I read about the catastrophic conditions in northern Nigeria or about Syrian refugees or bombings in Pakistan or the marginalization of the vulnerable in our own land or even as I feel the pain of relational division right in front of me or the apathy that sneaks up on me, I cry out with the beloved Christmas hymn: "In His name, all oppression shall cease"...but how long, O Lord?
Even still, hope is alive and well. Joy marches triumphantly. The kingdom of light advances. A new and glorious morn has dawned.
So, this Christmas season I invite you to hear another invitation. In addition to the RSVPs for holiday work parties, Christmas cookie baking parties and Christmas eve dinner parties, consider sending an RSVP for the grand Advent banquet when Christ comes to make permanent his good reign upon the earth and permanently make good upon his proclamation of good news for the poor. And join in the song of creation to welcome his coming and participate with him in praying for his kingdom to come upon this earth.
Here are some Scriptural meditations which can fill you with longing for Christ and his good-news-kingdom this Advent season: