Written by Fr. William Eavenson - The Mission Cincinnati
It’s happening again.
Commercials about new cars topped with giant red bows are filling up the ad breaks in my Hulu shows, rumors of Black Friday specials are creeping into my newsfeed, and for some reason I can’t get that stupid song “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth,” out of my head.
You know what this means: “the holidays” have arrived.
As a little kid, I loved this season. The annual ritual of driving from Atlanta (where I grew up) to Knoxville for Thanksgiving, and returning home in time to decorate the house for Christmas (ALWAYS on the weekend AFTER Thanksgiving!) is deeply etched into my emotional memory. I still have my childhood Advent calendar, and I still remember waiting with my sister outside my mom’s bedroom door on early December Saturdays for “mommy wrapping machine” to finish disguising yet another exciting present we would have to wait a few more days to open. I remember how Christmas Eve used to feel like magic as my mind was a-blur with the mingled stories of Santa and Jesus, lit candles and wrapped gifts. Perhaps what I loved most about those days each year, was how powerful the sense of expectation was.
We lose things as we grow up.
Many of us lose our childhood sense of wonder as we learn more and more about how the world really works and that (**spoiler alert!) Santa isn’t real. There are no mysteries anymore for the initiated. Everything in our mechanical universe has an explanation. Some of us lose our joy over what we wanted to be when we grow up when we actually become that doctor (or astronaut), when we actually find that long-imagined lover and start a family and learn that communication is hard work and kids are messy and loud. Some of us lose spouses, friends, or loved ones to divorce, death, or the slow separation of time and distance. And when we stare into the face of our losses, Christmas and “the holidays,” feel less magical and more masochistic; a societal choreography forcing us to move through the motions of a feigned joy that does nothing more than remind us of the good things we used to have but don’t anymore.
I want things for Christmas this year…but not presents.
I want my childhood wonder back. I want my friend’s divorce undone, his marriage repaired, and his heart healed. I want people around me who have died this year to come back to life. I want the power to fix other people’s pain, to be able to press a button and end their hurt. I want peace between nations and peace in my heart. I want to lock anxiety in a box and ship it to Mars or drop it in the deepest part of the ocean. I want to see our politics de-polarized, and for us to stop our ridiculous partisan bickering. I want my friends who have lost their faith to find it again. I want to be able to express my love to my family and friends in a way that is clear and not needy. I want people everywhere to have real hope.
I can’t manufacture those things and Santa can’t deliver them. But Jesus can.
For the last few years, I have needed Advent even more than Christmas. Because I need intellectual honesty in my faith. I need room to reconcile the hard things I experience with the good things I believe. Advent makes space for this. In their wisdom, Christians in history designated time on the church calendar before Christmas, to live deeply into a season of anticipation and expectation for Christ to come into the world as an infant in the glory of the Incarnation, and to come back again at the end of time as benevolent King of a fully-realized, cosmic Kingdom. In Advent, we wait. We long. We GROAN. We sit with recently exiled Ancient Israel whose people haven’t heard God speak to them in 500 years. We clutch the letter of Revelation desperate for hope and assurance of God’s love for us, alongside 1st century Christians whose friends had been ripped from their homes, strung up on trees in Emperor Nero’s Garden, and lit on fire as mood lighting for parties. And we cry out “how long!?” with our brothers and sisters whose families are driven from their homes by violence in Africa, or whose lives are torn apart by drugs and gun violence on our own American streets. Advent affirms that waiting and longing have always been part of what it means to be a Christian. This season shows me that I can feel deep sadness AND hold on to real hope. I can acknowledge the truth of ALL the hard things in the world, feel ALL of the emotions, and still be a Christian. And Advent also reminds me, that the full range of human experience and emotion takes place between the starting point of our world’s creation at the hands of a God of inestimable love, and its conclusion when Jesus, the Son of that same God comes back to topple oppressors, end violence forever, raise dead people, and wipe every tear from every eye.
THAT LAST PART IS ALL I WANT FOR ADVENT. It’s what every Christian throughout history has wanted. And it’s not just an empty promise. It’s a true and certain hope that we can bank on.
The Apostle Paul says it this way in Romans 13:11-12: “the hour has come for you to awake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now that when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So the let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
You may not get back all the things you’ve lost in this life. I can’t promise you will feel the same wonder tomorrow you felt yesterday. But if you are in Christ, you WILL get Jesus: coming back to you at the end of time to set every wrong right, heal every wound, and make all things new. And as Advent reminds us, its okay to WANT THAT. To LONG for Christ’s return and the final repair He will bring, to cry out with every fiber of your being—in grief or in joy—for Him to come back and make our world new. Because practicing that longing is not an exercise in wishful thinking. It is a pressing of our souls into the deepest and most true reality of the universe that is meant to give us ultimate and durable joy and hope: Jesus is coming back to make everything new.
That’s all I want for Advent. How about you?
From The Mission Cincinnati blog - November 19, 2019 - http://www.missioncincinnati.org/blog/2019/11/19/all-i-want-for-advent