Yesterday, I quoted a line from mystic Meister Eckhart, that if we cannot be moved and changed by the birth of Jesus that we celebrate year after year, then what is the point in celebrating? I want to continue that thought today.
Having been raised in a non-liturgical church, I resisted Advent when I first encountered the liturgical season in my twenties. My grad school roommate Jen had been raised in a Lutheran church and we lightheartedly argued about when to start listening to Christmas music and when to put up a tree. I would let loose in full Christmas mode as soon as Thanksgiving rolled around while she thought Christmas didn't start until, well, Christmas day...imagine that! In those early days, Advent was asking me to let go of something I wasn't willing to give up. It wasn't really about the timing of music or the tree (I'm not ashamed that I'm listening to a few Christmas albums amongst my Advent ones as I write...and our Christmas tree still goes up at Thanksgiving. Sorry, not sorry). I didn't want to give up what I thought Christmas was: presents, warm fuzzies, pumpkin spiced candles, carols, and a little bit of Nativity backlit on the church lawn. While, many of us who are Christians love to talk about the real meaning of Christmas, trying to yank back our holiday in a decidedly non-Christlike fashion, we simultaneously fill our homes with stuff and spend hours rehearsing for our live Nativities and carol singings.
And while these things aren't all bad (I'm thrilled to be singing in a Christmas Eve choir for the first time in many years), we forget the full picture of Advent and therefore who Jesus was and is. In the introduction to his book "Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditation for Advent," Richard Rohr says that we often view Christmas as the "sweet coming of a baby who asked little of us in terms of surrender, encounter, mutuality or any studying of the Scriptures or the actual teaching of Jesus." We are distracted from who Jesus really was by a snuggly baby and the smell of pine trees. Rohr says that Jesus was clear about his own message: "the coming of the 'reign of God' or the 'kingdom of God.' Any other message we get time waters it down.
Advent isn't about sweetness. But I also don't want to take away its joy: it is about hope, hope for a suffering world. But its hard to access that hope until we have looked inside our own pain and brokenness. Rohr says the Word of God "confronts, converts, and consoles us--in that order." Early Christmas celebrations and loving gazes at the sweet baby Jesus cooing in the manger are ok. There is hope in the newness of life and birth. As the hymn below says,
"Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
and darkness glow with new-born light,
no more shall night extinguish day,
where love's bright beams their power display."
But Advent offers us something more. Only when we have been confronted by the fullness of who Jesus is--the baby, the man he became, and his divinity--can we truly understand the good news of the God who loved us so much that he came to be among us in our suffering. And that is something worth singing about.
A song for today:
Come, thou Redeemer of the Earth, sung by Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles