Beloveds, we are smack-dab in the middle of THE season. The season that “Tis”, if you will. It’s undoubtedly my favorite time of the year – full of stockings and ornaments, cocoa and carols, and a Christmas sweater collection that is more than a little embarrassing.
What’s more, each Sunday marks the weekly passing of the traditional Christian Advent season. I didn’t grow up in the church so the term “advent” is relatively new to me. It literally translates to “Coming” and refers to the waiting period before Christ’s arrival in the world, both past and present. It’s the season where we put ourselves in the shoes of the Israelites, waiting on the Messiah for centuries, yoked with the inability to set themselves free. We join in their song, crying out “O Come, Emmanuel!” feeling their desperation for “God with us” to finally be born into the world.
We sing those words as Christians, already knowing the story that lies ahead with the manger and the shepherds and all the characters in place. We have our bells and our trees and our “Joy to the World!”. To sit in solidarity with our first brothers and sisters awaiting the birth of the Messiah like a desert parched for rain is a practice we encourage – it only deepens our appreciation for Jesus. But what of the Advent that still remains? I don’t know what the world around you looks like, but on Sunday when I sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” at church, I meant it, and tears began to form in my eyes with every line.
I sang it for my family, which somehow feels more broken around the holidays. I sang it for victims of terror and trafficking, to whom Emmanuel feels far. I sang it for the division within our country and the injustice all around the world. What I mean to say is, things are not as they should be. We live in what theologians call the “already and the not yet”. We know the birth and the cross and the Resurrection have already happened and are worth celebrating, but things are not yet fully restored. For some of us, we have many places where if feels we are still awaiting Jesus’ birth. In our homes, in the systems in place around the world, in the lives of those we love. We sing, “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”.
Advent, for me, brings up the tension between celebrating what has happened, and crying out on behalf of a world still not yet right. Jesus’ life on earth is every bit as thrilling today as it was then, and remembering it should cause us to sing, “Go tell it on the mountain! Jesus Christ is Born!”, for finally, there is hope for us beyond our own goodness and hope beyond the grave. All of God’s promises are “Yes” and “Amen” in Jesus, and this season is for celebrating when Love Himself came down. But I think there’s also something beautiful in being present with the Advent that still is. Holding in tension the joy of celebration with the pain of waiting.
Much of our world is in shambles. From Syrian refugees to divisions in the Body, from ISIS to marital feuds. It’s easy to find places where we long to see Jesus. Even though it’s Christmastime, don’t ignore the Advent season in and around you. Things are broken and hard. Press into that difficulty while proclaiming, “in his name all oppression shall cease”, trusting that it will.
For, it is because of Christmas that we can joyfully anticipate what is still to come in this second Advent.
Christmas tells us that God is Emmanuel, the God who wants to be with us. It tells us that even if it takes decades or centuries to see, He is faithful. We know that if scripture says He will make all things new, He will. We know that even if some of us sing “Come Lord Jesus” with broken hearts, desperate to know that Jesus will show up in our situation, we can also sing with assurance that He will. As a friend reminded me yesterday, if God works all things for the good of those who love Him, and things aren’t good, He’s not done yet.
Additionally, if you are a Christian, know that you carry within you the presence of Christ. You might not feel the heavy weight of Advent this time of year, but there are those all around you awaiting the presence of God even if they don’t articulate it. I encourage you all, as I do myself, to show up. Your presence in their lives, your love and your support tell the story of Christmas.
Jesus called us the light of the world, and when you show up and offer hope, you echo Jesus showing up in a dark and broken place – when light shone in darkness that deeply hungered for it.
This holiday season, be encouraged that everywhere you long to see Jesus, He also longs to reveal Himself. And when you find yourself in others’ dark places, shine bright, knowing that in you lives the Christmas story. In you, flesh carrying the Holy Spirit, the story of Holiness wrapping Himself in skin and dwelling among us is made real once more. In your humility and compassion is the story of a God so crazy about His people that He made Himself powerless and took on the vulnerable flesh of a baby. So yes, celebrate Christmas. Celebrate the Messiah coming to begin the work of saving the world, but also celebrate the hope that the Christmas story brings to our current world, broken as it is.
Emmanuel shall come to Thee.