Christmas, for all the jingle bells, snow, and Walmart shopping that goes with it, can come with a kind of malaise. A stuck-ness, some might say. We feel the pressures, disappointments, and darkness of the season and for many Christmas does not have the hope, faith, joy, and peace we might expect. Hallmark Christmas movies are warm and fuzzy, but for many this is not the experience we have this time of year, no matter how much eggnog lattes are offered to us. Add to this an unending cycle of pandemic news from around the world and we wonder what hope we have at all. There is a reason why songs about the bleak mid-winter were written.
But here is the unlikely beauty of this season and the story of Christmas. The story of Christmas began long ago not with the warm soft glow of tinsel and the sultry comfort of Bing Crosby, but in the hard, lonely, and complex realities of life – and life dealing a pretty hard hand to nearly all the characters in the Christmas story. Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds were not having an easy go of it in the lead up to the birth of Jesus. The story sets us up to meet people who, although part of the Christmas story, did not know it, or feel it, yet. They were under the oppression of a foreign Roman force, they were not wealthy, and forces beyond their control left them all on edge, even ready to flee the country. But this is how many good stories begin; in the darkness before a glimmer of light blinks through.
This season of waiting and anticipation is called Advent, and it begins on November 28th marked by the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. While Advent is celebrated in different ways, it is broadly viewed as a time of expectation. Like a soon-to-be-grandparent sitting in the waiting room of a hospital anticipating the birth of a grandchild, Advent is a time of hope. There is a moment coming that will change this from a story of waiting, to a story full of very good news.
During each Sunday of Advent Christians in worship will often light a candle each week. One for hope, faith, joy, and peace. In the same way there are stages of grief, I think these mark the stages of anticipation for the arrival of something, or someone, we have long waited for. We wait with hope, we have faith in something coming we cannot see, we sense a new kind of joy growing as we wait, and finally we just rest in a deep peaceful knowledge that all will be alright in spite of our circumstances. Christmas means something more in the waiting for it.
We are a culture and a city in waiting. We are waiting for the anxiety, sorrow, or anger of this pandemic season to give way to something better that we cannot see. We carry within us each an expectancy for something deeper and something that we hope will come after all of this is over. Whether you celebrate Advent or Christmas or not, may you find hope, faith, joy, and peace in the waiting. May your season of expectancy prepare you for something good that you did not expect. Together we can find common ground in our shared waiting, and I hope that one day soon we will be able to celebrate that the wait was not for nothing. Hope, faith, joy and peace to you in this moment.