Advent of hope

December 19th, 2017

People who know me well know that I really like the reflective, penitential, preparatory seasons of the church year. Give me an evening service to plan where we can name our brokenness and God’s presence in the middle of it and I’m a happy pastor. For better or worse, I have thus far approached Advent in my churches as a time to set some time apart from the busyness, materialism, and forced cheer of American Capitalist Christmas. I’ve often asked congregants to pray more, read scripture more, reflect more, give alms, or just be quiet and still. In my personal spiritual life, I’m usually fighting off the glitter and noise with everything I’ve got so that I can focus on the task of waiting and preparing for the birth of Christ again. I almost always fast during Advent. An outsider might see this as me being a Debbie Downer or not adequately celebrating the hope and joy of Christ’s coming, but for me it’s about the journey to that hope and joy. It’s a counter-cultural act of patience, waiting, preparing.

But something is different this year. This year, I’m not interested in waiting or preparing solemnly. I need the excitement, the anticipation, the breathless expectation of a baby being born. Six years ago, my niece was born just before Christmas. She’s the first baby in our generation. She made me Aunt La, a name I treasure. She was a week late, and we were all waiting impatiently for my sister to go into labor. She eventually had to be induced, and we all scrambled to make the appropriate travel plans. I remember the sixteen hour drive to see her as soon as I could, to be there to hold her when she was brand new. It was so exciting, so joyful. She was the first baby that ever made me cry with joy. She was a new generation, a new possibility for our family. I loved her immediately and was awestruck with how perfect her tiny hands and feet and nose were, how pink and round her cheeks, how soft and wiggly she was to hold.

This year, I find myself needing that kind of expectation, that kind of excitement, that kind of awe. I need the journey to Christmas to be one of joy and hope and impatience. I need to rush to the manger and cry with happiness at that baby. As we all cope with a culture of anxiety and fear, as we live through a constant news-cycle of shock and scandal, as we feel more and more estranged from each other, perhaps the point of this Advent season is to remind us of the joy and hope we have in Christ.

I believe the church calendar is a powerful tool that can call us out of “the world” and into an alternative way of life. Ordering our lives around Christ’s life, ministry, and death and the work of the Church is counter-cultural in a way few things are. And while Advent is certainly a challenge to a culture of materialism and thoughtless immediate consumption, it is also a challenge to hopelessness. Even though we are waiting for the birth of that little baby in Bethlehem, we also already know the end of the story. We know that the birth isn’t the only thing, and that there is truly reason to have hope and joy and excitement.

So this year, I’m giving myself permission to have a joy- and hope-filled Advent, from start to finish. I’m not waiting to be excited about Jesus because I need that excitement now. I hope that if you are in the same place, burdened by how dark things seem right now, that you’ll let this season call you out of that and into the joy of a sure knowledge of what Christmas did and does and will mean.

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