December 2017

By the time we get to December, the world around us is fully turned and lurching toward Christmas.  Most of us are not busy preparing ourselves for the celebration of the Incarnation; instead, we are caught up in the material frenzy of a consumer-driven holiday.  This state of affairs has been long- lamented by people like me, but I do my best to restrain myself.  (Pastoral groaning doesn’t do much good against the prevailing “Christmas spirit.”)   But the fact of the matter remains:  how our world prepares for Christmas doesn’t have much to do with Christ.

Here’s how Advent begins for us in the church, for the fraction of the faithful who journey all the way through the season of Advent in hopeful expectation.  This from the prophet Isaiah:

“O that you would tear open
the heavens and come down!”

This lesson from the First Sunday in Advent is an aching cry that God would come to rescue us, “to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence.”  The basis of Christmas lies in our desperate longing for God to come into our crazy, mixed-up, violent world and finally do something.

Longing for God is embedded in the Christian experience.  The prophets bear witness to this longing deep within us, a longing for peace and wholeness, and longing for a world unsullied by greed and hatred.  The pangs are so sharp that we want God to bust down the doors and put things right, once and for all!

Lots of attention is given to Christmas, of course, both in church and in culture.  But the season of Advent has a flavor all its own, and we do well to give it our full attention.  But given all the pre-Christmas hype swirling around, finding this deeper, richer Advent isn’t easy.  It requires that we slow down, take a deep breath, listen, and learn to wait upon the Lord.

In Advent we connect again to this ancient message, this longing for God to finally come.  We do that in the knowledge that God has already come, in the Incarnation, the birth of Christ, the Word made flesh.  This was    in effect    God busting down the doors, or (in the words of Isaiah) God tearing open the heavens.  The birth of Christ was the world’s rescue.  But we often fail to see it.  We fail to live according to it, and we fail see the Lord who has promised to be with us always.  In Advent, we attune ourselves anew to this mystery, we learn (or relearn) to wait, expectantly and patiently, for that rescue to become real in us and through us.

The hymn, “Joy to the World,” is a favorite associated with Christmas, but it properly belongs in Advent.  Joy to the world, for the Lord has come!  Let the earth receive its king!  Yes, God’s kingdom is already here!  But now the Advent part: let every heart prepare him room.

Our hearts can get pretty cluttered.  Let us take this time to make him some space!

 +  Pastor Tom Kildea