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The leaves have fallen. The temperatures are dropping. The wind from the north is regularly sweeping across the land, cutting through the extra layers we’ve donned. Two Sundays ago, it snowed enough to cover the ground. Walking across the church parking lot my three year-old opened his mouth wide to the sky and proclaimed he was catching all the snowflakes. It’s beginning to look and feel like Christmas. America’s retail stores are way ahead of most of us and begging us to get on board with the idea that Christmas is here.
But it’s not.
Advent is here.
Capitalism’s liturgical calendar is not the church’s, despite what Macy’s and Amazon would like us to believe. Consumerism is selling cheer and merriment. Sure, it has its place. But in Advent we, the church, can offer something more potent than eggnog and Christmas spice. We can, if we are courageous enough, offer honesty.
It feels like honesty is in short order these days. It seems like everyone has their half-truths and alternative facts to bolster their preferred narrative. Everyone is claiming their side is winning or that the other side is so afraid or that the world is so bad or that they’re the victim.
Everyone I talk with is exhausted, and on the surface it can be blamed on the pandemic and politics. But truthfully, I think the tenor of our discourse with one another has been reduced to something less than human and it’s having more of an impact on us than we know. The memes we share, the articles we post, the talking points we regurgitate do little to connect to a human being with a heart and soul, with fears and hopes, with worries and joy.
Maybe that’s why I find my soul resonating more and more with the season of Advent. Advent is a time of expectation toward a future that is coming to us. It’s not a time of looking beyond or around our present to the future, but rather a time of looking through our present to the future.
Advent is a time of honest expectation for God to act on God’s promises precisely because we need God to act. A time of courageous realism about the brokenness of the world. Advent is not mere optimism or fanciful escapism. Advent is a time to let the rough edges of the world tenderize our hearts so that they might be ready and open to being saved. Advent asks us to be honest about being human in a world where being human is hard.
I wonder if this Advent season we can be honest? Can we be honest about all that we’ve lost in the last two years? Can we be honest about the grief we’ve experienced, the trauma we’ve known, the relationships that have fallen away? Can we be honest that everything feels exhausting and nothing feels normal? Can we be honest? Can we avoid the pretense of honesty by admitting those emotions we typically turn to—bitterness, cynicism, exasperation, etc.—are really just defensive shields we hide our true emotions behind? Can we be honest?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.”
Let me lay down a little of my ego and be honest: When I look out at the world and all that is happening, and then I look at myself and my place in it, I am at a loss. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to respond. I hardly know how to process my own experiences of the last two years. My faith is shifting and being reoriented in ways that are exhilarating and scary. I’m tired more than I used to be (that could be because I keep getting older). I feel like I’m starting over as a pastor; that the last thirteen years of experience are not as relevant as I assumed they would be. The only thing that I know is that I can’t fix it. I can’t be what everyone needs me to be. When I’m honest, I am forced to admit that someone besides me needs to save the world. And me.
Maybe that’s what Advent is all about.
Even so, come Lord Jesus.
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