Call me crazy, but when I think of Advent I sometimes think about integrity.
Sure, I also think about warm candles lit against the cold, dark nights. I think about wreaths, about decorating trees with lights, and about those paper calendars with a chocolate treat hidden behind each numbered door. I think about how I’m getting behind on making gifts for my friends and family. And I panic that I haven’t sent any Christmas cards yet.
But I also think about what we learned as children, that Advent is a time for remembering that God promised to send Jesus into the world, and that every year, followers of Jesus spend this season preparing their hearts to receive him again: the one who came, is coming, and will come once more.
And that’s where integrity comes in. In leadership development circles the word “integrity” is often understood to have two meanings. The first has to do with giving and keeping our word. Basically, we do what we said we would do, when we said we would do it, in the manner it was intended to be done. I think this is a common understanding of integrity. We all want to be people of our word.
At Advent we are reminded that God is characterized by integrity. God promised to send Jesus into the world, and God did. This is consistent with God’s character: God said “Let there be light,” and there was light. God promised deliverance from Egypt, and God set the people free. God spoke through the prophets to promise a saviour, and the Prince of Peace was born.
At Advent we celebrate that God is full of integrity: God keeps God’s word. And we are reminded in this season that as children of God we are also created to be a people of our word. As Mary did when the Angel Gabriel foretold that she would give birth to the Christ, we can give our yes to God’s yes by saying, “let it be with me according to your word.”
But there’s a second definition of integrity which in many ways is much more interesting to me. That definition has to do with living into a design. Everything has a design – an intended form and function – and when it fulfills that design it has integrity. When a bridge is strong and cars are able to drive across it safely, we say it has structural integrity. It is functioning according to its design.
When an organization is fruitful and does the things it was intended to, it has integrity. When a family flourishes, and its members live in authentic, healthy relationship, the family has integrity. It was designed to be that way. When a human being is living a “fully alive” life (as Irenaeus would say), that human being is functioning according to the design. There is a sacred design for just about everything we see and experience, and things have integrity when they function according to that design.
At Advent I am reminded that Jesus’ title, Prince of Peace, was not just a title but it was also his design. Jesus modeled integrity by living into that design in everything he said and did. To be clear, I do not think Jesus’ kind of peace meant the absence of conflict, but it was instead about the restoration of shalom, about reconciliation with God, self, others, and creation. So, we see Jesus living into his design when he preached the Sermon on the Mount, and when he spoke of the coming kingdom in terms of love and restorative justice (Matthew 25). Truly, he said, whatever you do to the least of these you do to me. This is a radical kind of peace that will sometimes actually cause conflict but it is in total integrity with God’s design for the world. Jesus was full of integrity.
So at Advent I think, among other things, of integrity. I see, once again, that God gives and keeps God’s word and that and as a child of God I am also created to be a person of my word. But, even more compelling, I see that Jesus came to fulfil a sacred design.
This causes me to wonder: how can I live into my design too? In a season that lends itself to frantic busyness, commercialism, end-of-year deadlines, ministry commitments, family commitments, and high expectations all around (my eye is twitching even as I write this), how can I live the “fully alive” life?
I need to slow down and breathe, to be careful about overcommitting and overfunctioning, to make space for creativity and play, to seek community, to walk outdoors long enough to appreciate the smell of pine and the sight of sunlight on snow, to smile at the laughter of children, to continue to do the things that bring peace and joy…and I need to invite others to do those things with me.
Every year when Advent comes around, I wonder whether this season is really meant to remind us that that it is enough for us to live simply. With integrity. It is enough. We are enough when we try to be people who give and keep our word, and who live into our sacred design. And we can take this time each year to remember that God showed us how to do it in Jesus.