This column ran on the Faith Page in the Central Oregonian the first week of December this year. If you did not see it there, I thought I’d share it with you here.
I love Advent and the spaciousness of the season. I hope that you enjoy it, too.
Just as the world is gearing up for “The Holidays,” the church year is slowing down. Lutheran Christians, along with many other Christians, live from two calendars, the civic/commercial one and the liturgical one. In the liturgical calendar, days of great celebration are preceded by weeks of reflection and preparation. And so Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, is preceded by Advent, four weeks of quiet waiting and reflection.
During Advent we remember how much we long to be God’s people and how completely we fail to be what God desires of us. We remember that in God’s mercy Jesus came to be one of us, to walk with us, to teach us what God’s love looks like in ordinary life. We remember that Jesus suffered the worst of which humanity is capable to break the power of evil to destroy us, and that he finally overcame the power of death to guarantee our life together with God forever. We see that all of this was purely a gift, the final grace of God’s love to lift us into new life, so that our failures, our flaws, and the evil which is in us and around us can no longer separate us from the fullness of life God intended for us. We recognize that Jesus came once in our history as a human baby, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, but that at the end of time, he will come again in all his glory as our King. In his reign there will be no more grief or suffering, no child will ever die before its parents, no sickness or pain will ever plague us, neither war nor violence will ever ruin life again.
So we take time in the darkening part of the year to get ready and we light a candle each week. We light a candle of Hope, remembering that hope is not fleeting when it is anchored in God’s proven power to make a way where there is no way. We light a candle of Peace, remembering that God’s peace transforms our hearts from self-centered to loving. We light a candle of Joy, remembering that true joy comes from receiving the overflowing love of God to see ourselves as blessed to be a blessing. We light a candle of Love, remembering that God’s love is endless, unconditional, and totally undeserved, and that it can flow through us and beyond us into the weary suffering world. We remember that we become the bearers of God’s hope and peace and joy and love, and that this is our calling to the world God loves.
Then we are ready to receive the gift of this Baby, the miracle of God come to us to be held and nursed and welcomed into our ordinary life. The joy of receiving a new baby stops us in our tracks, turns life upside-down and changes everything forever. So, too, is the joy of receiving this awesome Child. When we place that clay baby in the manger on Christmas Eve, we give our hearts over to the Miracle. God is with us, finally and forever.