Advent

The Top 5 Ways to Get Into the Christmas Spirit

Photo: Christmas lights: © Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Christmas lights: © Jorge Salcedo / Shutterstock.com

Have you burned out on fiscal cliff debate yet? Depressed that our Congress has still failed to renew the incredibly noncontroversial Violence Against Women Act? Well, while Sojourners cares deeply about both of the issues, we’re also very ready to celebrate this season of Advent, our Savior’s birth, and all of the family time and Christmas cookies that come with it. 

So here it is: The Top 5 Ways to Get Into the Christmas Spirit.

What To Do WIth Empty Space

Image: Empty space, © Leszek Glasner / Shutterstock.com

Image: Empty space, © Leszek Glasner / Shutterstock.com

"Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" - Luke 1:45

I'm thinking about promises this morning. Conceptually, that is — I've not yet progressed to specifics.

At church Sunday, the sermon was on joy. The pastor noted how much of our joy is anticipatory: we feel joy when we get great Celtics tickets, even though it's weeks before tip-off and we have no idea how the game will go. He described the joy he felt in waiting at the alter for his bride, even though he didn't know how their marriage would unfold. What we have in these moments, he said, is the promise of something we're excited to witness and be part of. And we have joy in those promises.

I have all kinds of promises from God, both the ones in the Bible and the personal ones He whispers in my ear. It's hard to believe these promises sometimes. (I tend to have more confidence that the Celtics will show up and play than I do that God will.)

Advent: In Anticipation of Reconciliation

Photo by Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

A man holds a national flag during celebrations marking Day Of Reconciliation 2011. Photo by Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Instead of celebrating a victory in war or recognizing the founding of an armed unit, South Africa renamed Dec. 16 as “The Day of Reconciliation” for the purpose of transformation, empowerment, and multi-racial national unity. In what can now be described as a dramatic conversion of symbolism, the newly redefined public holiday was celebrated for the first time in 1995.

The Day of Reconciliation is appropriately placed within the Christian liturgical season of Advent, for this period of expectation and longing for Jesus’ birth is a reminder of the ways that God’s presence heals wounds and redefines relationships. As the people of South Africa renovated their national holiday to embrace a transformed national identity, the Season of Advent prepares us to be made new through the birth of Jesus, and thus moves us to promote restored local and global communities through the practice of radical hospitality, as is written in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, and entrusting to us the ministry of reconciliation." 

Advent: Our Christmas Hope

Photo: Advent candles, week 2, © haraldmuc / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Advent candles, week 2, © haraldmuc / Shutterstock.com

This Advent, as we wait for the true light who is coming into the world (John 1:9) we pause and reflect on our Christmas hope. As a friend said last night, we do not linger forever in uncertainty but as an expectant mother who labors in anticipation of the joy her child will surely bring.

Our assurance of salvation — past, present, and future — depends on the unique person of Jesus Christ and our relationship to him, and there's perhaps nothing more central to Jesus and our relationship with him than that he became flesh, was made like us in every respect (Heb. 2:17), so that by grace we might become partakers of his divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

This isn't something the church merely teaches but an event of history, revealed for all men and women in the one-of-a-kind person Jesus is, the human and divine Son of God. From the moment of Christ's conception, eternity himself inhabits time so that events of his life on earth long since past are forever present to us in Jesus. This is one reason our joy at Christmas is so palpable and real ... when we worship Jesus at Christmas, we are once again with Mary and Joseph on that cold, dark night as they swaddle “he who made the starry skies” and lay him in a manger.

The Power of Christmas

Photo: Following the Star, © Juampi Rodriguez / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Following the Star, © Juampi Rodriguez / Shutterstock.com

“Faith is recognizing that if at Christmas Jesus became like us, it was so we might become more like him,” wrote the well-known preacher and activist William Sloan Coffin. He goes on to add, “We know what this means; watching Jesus heal the sick, empower the poor, and scorn the powerful, we see transparently the power of God at work.”*

Christmas really is about seeing the power of God at work, but far too often pastors and churches fail to tell this story. Oh sure, we preach about Mary and Joseph, Jesus being born in a Bethlehem manger, and the Magi following a star to find him and offer gold, frankincense, and myrrh. My fear is that the story has grown familiar and routine. We have forgotten its power and no longer see its challenge. 

In Matthew’s Gospel, the Magi seek out Jesus after hearing of his birth. In order to find him they ask King Herod where they can find the new king. This, of course, is news to Herod who is surprised to learn that his title has been claimed by a baby. Herod consults his advisors and then reacts with the expected calmness of a leader anticipating a conflict, which is to say his response is not calm at all. 

This story is an announcement that Jesus has arrived to challenge the powerful. The Messiah was not born meek and mild.   

The Waiting

Photo: People waiting, © phototr  / Shutterstock.com

Photo: People waiting, © phototr / Shutterstock.com

As I write, I'm stuck in the Central Wisconsin Airport (near the bustling metropolis of Wausau, Wis., for those keeping score at home). And, you guessed it, I'm waiting. Fog in Minneapolis prevented our plane from landing there, and now I'm left sitting in a very small regional airport with no restaurant and no coffee and no concrete sense of what the rest of my day will look like as I make my way to California. All I can do is wait.

I do know, barring something entirely unexpected, that I'll eventually make it to San Francisco. Right now I'm living the axiom offered by Tom Petty decades ago: "The Waiting is the Hardest Part."

Advent, a season during which Christians honor and attempt to approximate the longing for a Messiah more than 2,000 years ago, is often described as a chance to exercise our patience muscles. Advent can serve as a season of anticipation and hope and longing, void of desperation. This is Advent for those who already have most of that for which they wait. But for countless people around the globe, every additional day of waiting comes with a heavy price.

The Annunciation – A Divinely Human Moment

Simone Martini, Annunciation 1333 C.E.

Simone Martini, Annunciation 1333 C.E.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

The beautiful anonymity and soft innocence of a young girl in Nazareth would be stripped by an angelic visitation. Who could ever envision the global veneration soon to commence? This Holy Virgin of Martini's masterpiece cannot be Mary's vision. The gilded, enthroned Mother of God,  Blessed Virgin, Theotokos, Panagia. Millenia of adoration blurs the humanity of such a terrifying moment in the life of a child.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.

Gabriel's praise for her resounds the Earth this Advent Season. Martini paints the words spouting from Gabriel's mouth, invading Mary's space. Her shoulder shrug speaks to Luke's revelations of her humanity. The Gospel record exposes her vulnerability and reluctance to embrace such a startling event.

Been There, Bordered That. So Why Are We Still So Afraid?

Maryada Vallet stands in Nogales, Mexico, pondering this wall.

Maryada Vallet stands in Nogales, Mexico, pondering this wall that separates communities and families.

The Angels of Advent are saying, "Do not be afraid" -- we bring good news of immigration reform.

And what does fear do to us?

We disregard the good news at our doorstep, the opportunity to live with Jesus among us, and keep on building walls at our threshold. Perhaps that's why the angels of the Bible repeat this admonishment -- Do not be afraid -- over and over again, for fear inhibits our ability to see and hear a new vision.

I remember as a child wanting to leave the lights on in my room at night. The shadows and sounds were too much for an imagination that could run wild to handle. As adults, of course, it's our duty to assure children that nothing is living in their closets or under their beds. We offer the comfort of reality so that the child will go to sleep and have sweet dreams.

But you have to admit, as adults we are gripped by the same fear but on a different level. We may compulsively check to make sure the front door is locked. We don't look strangers in the eye (especially those we deem to look "strange") as we pass them on the street.

A Season of Urgent Patience

Photo: Christmas countdown illustration, © Jiri Hera, Shutterstock.com

Photo: Christmas countdown illustration, © Jiri Hera, Shutterstock.com

On the morning of Nov. 7, just hours after polling places closed and as votes continued to be counted, the national attention seemed to simultaneously switch from projected winners to the issues that deserved immediate attention. Instead of speculation surrounding which candidates may emerge victorious, many expressed the need for swift action on climate change, job creation, and education reform. The meticulous analysis of exit polls was abruptly replaced with calls for change surrounding immigration, taxes, and sustainable peace in the Middle East. Wwithin moments of receiving the news of Election Day winners, the general public swiftly switched its collective attention to matters of the immediate future. 

In light of the various challenges facing our national and global community, there are indeed numerous issues that require the immediate attention of our elected officials.  And our newly re-elected president, as well as others placed into public service, should be called upon for genuine cooperation, fair action, and immediate impact.  

But while urgency is required in light of pressing concerns, an overindulgence of immediacy also contains a long list of shortcomings. Discipline and patience are required to bring forth intellectual depth, balanced consideration, and lasting compassion.  As humans are more inclined to favor short-term over long-term rewards, the virtue of patience should be appreciated for its many worthwhile benefits.     

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