Advent Christmas

December 3, 2017

Absence in Advent

The Christmas chaos has begun. Don’t get me wrong. I am crazy about Christmas. I start carols in September, decorations in October, and sweaters in November. There’s just something about the season that necessitates sheer delight. More seriously, the opportunity to celebrate the generosity of giving and the meekness of mercy is intensely moving. I am captivated by the intersection of heaven and earth. God has put on human skin. Grace is tangible. Love is incarnate.

Thus, it is not surprising that Advent is really hard for me. I am constantly tempted to skip it and go straight to Christmas. I repeatedly succumb to materialism in the name of generosity and sensationalism in the name of joy. Advent makes me uncomfortable. There’s a palpable absence. I know the Lord is here, but I am told to wait for him. I know Christ is born, but I am told He is not here. I am told now, but not yet.

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, and frankly, it feels incredibly far away. Specifically, the unprecedented unveiling, at least in my lifetime, of a systemic culture of sexual abuse that is inundating an ever-shrinking public square is devastating. And recent conversations with “pro-choice” advocates have left me incredibly demoralized. So I’m frustrated that I have to wait. I desperately need the joy of Christmas, the blessed assurance that God has become man. I need to revel in the innocence of a baby, the closeness of salvation. But my ways are not His ways.

Advent is anticipating the beginning of the incarnation. The first person to worship the human Christ was the unborn John the Baptist (Luke 1). He leaps for joy in the presence of the unborn Christ. Even in the womb, Christ is reaching out to John. The first person to see the resurrected Christ was Mary Magdalene. She cries out to her teacher. He returns and appears to her at the tomb He defeated (John 20:11). He speaks with her before He speaks with his beloved disciples.

God knows. Of course He does. Leave it to our God to bestow the two greatest honors of worshipping Him at two human and resurrected beginnings to two individuals who have been the most historically oppressed by society: babies and women. His kindness is so overwhelming. He seeks out the most victimized and the vulnerable. He comes to them when they cannot come to Him. He makes the battered beautiful. The convergence of the ultimate victim and the ultimate victor in the person of Jesus Christ is what enables this immense strength.

But in order to appreciate Christ the Redeemer at a gut-level, I desperately need Advent.

In her book, A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle suggests that “the minute we begin to think we have all the answers, we forget the questions.” I’m fully aware that the world needs the infant King, but do I genuinely believe I need Him? I know the Savior came to reconcile God with the world, but do I truly realize that I am of the world? That my sin has separated me from God just as equally as the sins of the perpetrators of this societal abuse that I so lament?

I sometimes find that it’s way too easy to answer these questions, and on one level, it’s incredibly obvious to me that I need Him. But what is the extent of my conviction? What is the depth of my dependence?

Advent is the season for us to marinate in these questions. To pray for the discipline to wait for the answers. But quite frankly, I am reluctant to contemplate this. Because to truly enter this space of doubt, I have to confront a heart so depraved and a love so encompassing. Both terrify me. The former because I have to acknowledge the darkness of my soul, and that my dirty wretchedness alone was enough to crucify God Himself. The latter because I have to accept a God so omnipresent and sovereign that He can become tiny enough to confine Himself inside my comprehension of an innocent baby.

A premature Christmas forgets Christ. After all, before His body could be broken, it had to be born. And for it to be born, the people of Israel, Mary, and we have to wait. Indeed, Christ was born to die, so it all comes full circle.

Therefore, in this Advent season, in the midst of all the shopping, lights, and noise, I’ll be once again learning to ask and not to answer. Learning to anticipate an arrival without being assured of it. I’ll be worshipping in my waiting, in the now but not yet. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

3 Responses to Absence in Advent

  1. Shirleen Wait says:

    The Lord always surprises me the first week of Advent. Sometimes it is a new blessing in my life. Sometimes it is a sin I need to rid myself of, but haven’t really looked at it yet. So – Advent has become my favorite season!

  2. Pdn Michael says:

    “Advent anticipates the beginning of the incarnation”? Actually, the incarnation happened when the archangel Gabriel came to Mary: at that precise moment, “the Word became flesh.” Whether we mean the western Advent, or the Orthodox advent that began on November 15, the incarnation has, liturgically, “already happened.” I don’t intend to nit-pick, but the Christological implications (and the subsequent errors when we get it wrong) are enormous.

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