15 Dec Advent Peace Breaks Into a Broken World
One of the things I love about December is that it is an extravaganza for the senses. As soon as I walk in my front door the delicious scent of a Frasier Fir tree greets me. My nose leads me past the tree to the kitchen where bread and homemade cookies and apple cider simmering on the stove entice me still further. Part of my daily routine this month is to sit for a few minutes of pre-dawn silence and solitude, drinking in the soft glow of the tree’s white lights while the sky outside moves from inky black to dawn-gray to streaks of pink and orange.
Once I’m in the car on my way to work, the familiar stains of favorite Christmas carols fill the car. Sometimes I listen, carried along by the melody and words that no matter how majestic, still can’t touch the reality of the Incarnation. At other times, I am in full concert mode, doing my best full-throttle imitation of a blues singer which is surely one of my alter egos.
The shimmer of lit Advent candles, the taste of cookies that for some reason we only make at Christmastime, the comforting feel of unwrapping an ornament that I received as a gift in high school, the sheen of glitter-spewing ribbon, the clang of Salvation Army bells, the feel of a friend’s holiday hug, the sweet pang of remembrance with every holiday card that arrives—these are the sights and sounds, the tastes and smells, and the feel of Advent and Christmas. Oh, how I love it!
As is often the case, this year my joy has a touch of sadness to it. Not all is well with people who are dear to me. I know some who are grieving and others who are seriously ill. I know folks who need a job and others whose teenagers are having a rough go of adolescence. Just because it’s Christmastime doesn’t mean disease, death, or depression takes a holiday. Nor does it mean that violence, racism, or poverty are less persistent and egregious than the rest of the year.
None of this is new, of course. The Prince of Peace was born in a time of political oppression and occupation. Difficult travel, the pains of labor, and meager accommodations were juxtaposed with the jubilant cries of angels filling the night skies when Jesus entered the world. Poor peasants holding—and beholding—the crown of heaven: the Incarnation is a theological treasure trove of paradox.
So much of how well—or not—I live each day has to do with how well I manage the paradoxes of my own life. Can I embrace the pre-dawn solitude and simultaneously get my hands dirty in the very real messiness of the human experience? Can I appreciate the grace of friends reaching out to me and at the same time do the hard and lonely work of grief? Can I open my heart to the angels’ song and leave it open to be hurt by the inevitable ravages of illness and age? Can I—will I—trust in a baby who risked everything just to show me a bit more clearly who this God is who loves me so very much?
It is tempting to wish I could wrap myself in an Advent bubble to ponder these questions and many others like them. But, that just won’t do. Jesus left heaven, made his home among us, walked with us, got to know us, loved us, and sacrificed for us. It’s not too much to imagine that in order to follow him we will also need to leave the safety and comfort of home to walk with those who are hurting, get to know those who are different from us, love friends and enemies alike, and sacrifice self for the sake of a better way Jesus called the Kingdom of God. But, don’t forget, as we go about these life-transforming actions, angels are singing. Take time to listen!