The Christmas story has a lot in common with the Easter story in that it’s about the end of an old way of living, and the beginning of a new one.
It is a traditional mark that we can sink our claws in and say “this is the place where we will begin.” It’s a bit like the musical version of Dickens’ Christmas Carol when the Scrooge character wakes up on Christmas morning and sings, “I will begin again.“
If you have to, look beyond all the Jesus stuff in the story and see this: renewal of a tired old land. We have slogged along so long and we think to ourselves: things cannot possibly get any worse. People cannot possibly become more poor. Tyrants cannot possibly become more iron fisted.
Somehow, they do.
Advent is the time of year when we can look to the future and stop running in fear from the past. Everything we have seen, done, read, and experienced from the past has led us here, to this day. We look at Advent with sleepy eyes and tired limbs because we have scratched and clawed to get here. People have died along the way. Children have starved. Evil words have flown out and cut us the same as if knives were flung through the air. We stagger into Advent ragged, sweaty, torn. And we are slowed so much by all the baggage we have picked up this year: worries, anger, fears.
We approach the scene more tired that we have ever been.
Why do we do it? What keeps us going on when things seem their worse? The clue is in one of those little Christmas songs that you probably learned somewhere in elementary school. It’s that one line that we sing each year, almost by rote, and the great impact upon us might fly by as we sing and look for some great thing that will save us. What do we wait for more than anything else for these anxious days of Advent?
We search for the answer.
Fill in your own question here. There are too many to write down. Most questions begin with Why…? and some with How can I… ? and even a few with What if….?
We rely on a season of new beginnings and what comes from that to help us answer that great question. We don’t even have to speak it because we know it and surely our Maker does too. This year we walk forward, as raggedy as we are, as tired, as bloody, because ahead of us is what is better than where we are now.
That is the story of Advent.
Looking beyond the Jesus story, we have this time that we move toward this morning of our next do-over. We – like Scrooge – get to start again. Maybe this year (we hope) we will find the answer we seek now through our great exhaustion. Maybe now we can catch a break. That is the story of Advent.
The song? You remember:
Oh little town of Bethlehem
how still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
the silent stars go by.
Yet in the dark streets shineth
the Everlasting Light:
The hopes and fears
of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.
If we do not have hope that we can start new with a fresh set of clothes and a sip of water, we cannot move on. Everything around us – everything we know – we have bet on this time of great change. All the world waits in dreamless silence and hopes above all hopes that after this day, it all gets better.
May the benediction of the Everlasting Light be with us all. May we always hope that as the Advent nears, everything around us will reflect that light, and the Kingdom of Heaven will be reflected in us all.
Keep the faith!