Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Advent is my favorite season of the year. I think it comes from my own psychological baggage. I’ve always felt deeply empty – my therapist might encourage me to say worthless. Oh I know I’m a beloved child of God and I’m not out there looking for abuse or anything. I know who I am; I just don’t always feel it.

I heard Ian Morgan Cron speak to Olivet Nazarene University chapel recently – he talked specifically about this lack, this need, this inner sense of emptiness. He called it a universal piece of the human condition and that made me feel better. Perhaps I’m not as alone or unusual as I might’ve thought. I suppose a sanctified Nazarene elder such as myself shouldn’t still be struggling with issues of worth and purpose, but here I am and I don’t think I’m alone.

That’s exactly why I like Advent. Advent is the season that provides impetus for Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of incarnation, of Christ coming to Earth as a cute little baby boy. But that begs the question: why? Love, of course - it’s always love - but more specifically why do we need the kind of amazing sacrificial godly love we see in the birth of Christ?

It’s because we’re in such a sorry spot.

The world is pretty messed up most of the time, and we, the people of God, are far too often in the middle of it. There is pain and violence and abuse and war, depression and divorce and greed and selfishness – and there’s just as much of it in the Church as there is outside. We’re all terribly inadequate, yet deserving of so much more.

It’s that distance, that great divide between who we are and who we are created to be that Christ comes to bridge. That’s Christmas. Advent is about measuring the gap and affirming its impossibility. In Advent we mourn, we lament, we confess, and we beg.

We mourn the great potential of God’s creation and the ways in which we’ve helped to mess it up. We lament the great terrors we human beings have wrought on the world and just how many of them have grown out of control. We confess our inadequacy to tackle even the simplest of tasks without the divine presence of God almighty. And we beg for mercy. Please, Lord, don’t let us go down with this ship!

Advent is the season where we remind each other of how far we have to go, but also of how much God loves us and the absolute, unquestionable salvation that is just around the bend. Yes, we are preparing to celebrate the coming of messiah, but also of his immanent return. We bask in the joy of God’s love – the love spoken of so eloquently in John 3:16 – but we also sit with baited breath, anticipating the culmination of the Kingdom that Christ ushered in with his presence and that we so desperately need.

I love Advent, I think, because this one time of year, in the midst of our holiness culture, there’s permission to be me. I know we like to say we’re not about sinless perfection anymore, but that idea is just such a part of our DNA its shadow always lingers. There’s an unspoken (hopefully) drive to be light years ahead of where we are. Always better. Never satisfied.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that… in spurts, but we need a season to escape that pressure and be faulty human beings in need of a savior. It might not sound like Advent is a time for rejoicing, what with all the confessing, mourning, and lament, but Advent can be freeing for people who feel obligated to solve all the problems of the world most of the time.

Advent is our season to give up, to recognize the futility of our strivings, and place all the responsibility on God. The early cry of Advent was maranatha, “Come, Lord,” the only prayer possible when we’re at the end of our rope, when our only hope is THE only hope. It’s true that God meets every need, but we rarely see God’s way through the darkness of our desperation.

Salvation comes in unsuspecting ways: like a baby in a manger when it feels like we need an army.

Advent prepares the way for Christmas, like Lent for Easter. We need the struggle to appreciate the miracle. We need to live in the midst of who we really are before we can approach the awesome majesty of who we’re created to be.

Don’t skip Advent. Don’t make it just four weeks of advertisement for Christmas – Walmart does enough of that for everyone. Sit in the tension of the already and the not yet. Create anticipation for the glory yet to come by recognizing the profound sadness of a world not yet complete.

And when you get to Christmas, enjoy the whole thing. Those twelve days are not just an annoying song. The wisdom of our forebears knew we needed more than just one hectic morning of wrapping paper and pajamas to fully pay off the anticipation of our sorrow. We’ll be back in the midst of the world soon enough. Sing carols on New Year’s. Say “Merry Christmas” during the Rose Bowl parade.

It’s a long year and a long life. We need Advent. We need Christmas. They help us celebrate all of who we are: complex, oft-inferior, and entirely messed up; but also beautiful, beloved, lovingly crafted creations, in the very image of God.

The world isn’t going to hell in a handbasket, but it’s ok to think that it is once in a while. That’s called Advent, and it’s my favorite season of the year.

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