I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday last week. I hope you had some time off from work and got to spend time with the ones you love. I must admit, I really didn’t like Thanksgiving being so late this year. Not having that extra week between Turkey Day and the beginning of Advent was really difficult. Advent is the start of a new year for us in the Church. Our calendar is oriented in such a way that we cover the entirety of Jesus’ life and teachings and the movement he created over the course of each year. There’s the whirlwind from Advent through Easter. And then we slow down and talk about the Holy Spirit arriving on Pentecost and giving birth to the Christian Church. So, Happy New Year! Advent is often called a mini Lent—referring to the 40-day season of preparation before Holy Week and Easter.
The four weeks leading up to Christmas are likewise a time of preparation. There’s the preparation of our own to-do lists like cleaning up the house, getting it all decorated, shopping, wrapping, baking—lots of active verbs which seem to never end! However there’s also the preparation we do within, creating space in our lives to experience the birth of Christ again. We remember the waiting for generations for the Messiah to come. Paul describes it as living in this in-between time just before sunrise, the darkness is a thing of the past, but the light is not yet here. It’s so close we can taste it, but we can grab it yet. These sense of longing and anticipation is where Advent really begins. We have a deep hope for what might be. Our hearts ache for the Kingdom of God to be made real; for the hope, peace, joy, and love of this season to be known everywhere…but it’s not here yet.
My two favorite songs this time of year are “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” They speak of the ways hope for Jesus to save us: from ourselves—“from our fears and sins release us”—and by being present among us—“rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.” These haunting melodies in minor keys resonate with a deep groaning which longs for the healing our God can bring. There is, of course, that sense that this weight of darkness, the time when we feel lost and can’t find the light, is coming to an end soon. We are moving forward to December 25th. Imagine it always being winter but never Christmas. The long nights which make our days colder would go on and on. If we can hold on to hope that the light will come, we might just make it through this journey.
This living in a not-yet time is a deep contrast to the delight of Christmas itself. It highlights the tension of existing in a time when Jesus has come and gone from this earth while waiting for Him to bring the Kingdom to us. In waiting to experience again the birth of Christ, we are waiting for the birth of the Kingdom of God’s peace and justice. It reminds us to live in the moment anticipating what is to come next. Like the presents wrapped under the tree, we can’t open them just yet. We can’t experience the gift of Christmas until the time is right. For someone as impatient as me, it gets really uncomfortable. I’m a much better gift giver than I am recipient. I like to surprise other people with gifts and wait with excitement for when they’ll open them.
The world is not yet as we hope it will be. It is filled with hatred, division, and violence. That’s not to say there is no good in the world, quite the opposite. Yet, it is so often a struggle for good to overcome, though it does. We live in the hope that one day, God’s love will prevail and bring us together as one people. It’s not magic that makes what we hope for become reality, rather it is the work we do answering God’s call to justice for all people. Hope is what drives us when it seems impossible. Hope keeps our flames burning, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Each of us is in a different place this Advent season. For many of us, it’s a different place than we were just a year ago. For my family, last year we were awaiting the day when we’d get to complete the adoption of our son. We hoped it would be very soon, but it ended up being nine months. We spent two years living in that tension of having a son who was not-yet ours, so that sense of waiting in expectation for what we hoped is fresh in my memory. Wherever you find yourself in this season of preparation and waiting, hope is there to be found. The light will come even in the darkest places for the birth of the Christ child brings so much with it—Jesus’ entire life, his sacrifice, his ability to bring new life even in the darkest of places; there is no darkness which cannot be overcome. As we journey toward Bethlehem following that shining star, may we do so carrying hope with us. If we can hold on to that hope, we might just be able to do God’s work of making justice real, creating places of inclusion, and bringing everyone together as God’s family. I hope that it will be so, because this is Your Sacred Place.