This is my article for the current church newsletter coming out this Sunday.
Boy, Advent has snuck up on me. I’m sitting down to write this on November 26. In a month Christmas will be over. Well actually it won’t be over, it will only have just started, but it will feel like it’s over. We have such a build up through the month of December leading up to Christmas and then when the day is past, when all the bits of wrapping paper have been picked up, when the dishes have been washed and the leftovers are in various plastic containers in the back of the fridge, then it feels like Christmas is over.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself. As I write this Christmas is just a month away and I feel totally unprepared. I haven’t bought any presents yet (although my wife does most of the Christmas shopping and she’s got most of it done and wrapped already). Many of you know that I returned recently (on November 15) from an 19 day tour of the Holy Land, through parts of Egypt, Jordan, and Israel. Now I’m barely back to work and Advent and the busy month of December and the Christmas season are here.
Some radio stations are playing 24 hours of Christmas songs and carols. The stores are decorated. Our homes are being decorated. We’re making our lists and checking them twice, just like Santa Claus. The sounds of Christmas are rising in a crescendo that I feel somewhat ambivalent about. I love Christmas music, in fact I’m bending and breaking my household rule about playing Christmas music. It’s starting earlier every year. I’ve got my radio in the house and in the car tuned to the all Christmas music station. I like seeing the decorations out. I’m hoping for a somewhat warm day without rain so that I can get the lights and decorations put up outside the house.
But, on the other hand, I have this feeling that we’re rushing toward Christmas. We’re going to get there too soon. I want to hold off just a little longer. For that side of me I’m glad we have the season of Advent. Advent is a time of waiting. And Advent is a time of silence amid much noise. Advent is a time to think about another way, a different way.
During Advent we hear two words. On the Sundays in Advent we will hear readings from Isaiah where weapons of death are transformed into tools for cultivation (Isa 2:4). The ravenous wolf will no longer be a predator and the lamb will sleep soundly and securely through the night (Isa 11:6). The earth itself will no longer be barren or spoiled (Isa 35:1). The weak will be made strong (Isa 35:3). This is the word of comfort for the afflicted.
That’s not the only image we see nor the only news we hear during Advent. There is a sound of alarm and warnings to be ready. Wake up! (Rom 13:11) Stay awake! (Mt 24:42) Repent! (Mt 3:2) A thief is coming! (Mt 24:42-43) The judge is standing at the doors! (Jas 5:9). This is the word of affliction for the comfortable. Advent, if we really take the time and pay attention to what God is saying to us through the Word, asks us to step back and think differently about things. Advent asks us to consider what we do and why we do it and to give God a place in all that we do.
When we finally get to Christmas, the silence of Advent will have prepared us for joyful celebration. There are two words at Christmas as well as in Advent. There is the word of the gift of a baby born in a stable in Bethlehem, the word of hope that is born in each of our hearts as we hear the message of peace that the angels sing. It’s the image of a "baby-Jesus-for-me." But Christmas also brings another word presenting a "Jesus-who-is-for-us" and a "Jesus-who-frees-people." On the same night that we hear of the birth of the babe in Bethlehem, we also hear the words of the adult Christ who is broken and poured out in bread and wine. When we see the wooden manger we can’t forget the wooden cross.
Our hymns don’t let us forget these two words of Christmas. We sing "Silent night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright round yon virgin mother and child." But another favourite is "What Child Is This" where the second verse says "Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you; hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary!"
I’m not a party-pooper. I will soon get caught up in the festivities of the season. But I’ll try to keep some silence during Advent to think about what we’re really waiting for and preparing for. And between the opening of gifts, the visiting of friends and family, and the feasting that will inevitably be a joyful part of Christmas I’ll try to set aside some time to ponder the sacrifice God made by coming down to be one of us. Maybe you can too.