The images of the “Holiday season” are lovely aren’t they? Multi-generation families happy, healthy, and whole. Friends sharing food and good times. People at peace with themselves and with each other.
But these images also point out the distance between the way we want our lives to be and the reality that falls so short of the mark. In between the reality and the ideal is a tough place to be. But yet that is where we live. At least it’s where everyone that I know lives.
in between our hopes and our reality
in between the person I know I should be and the person I am
in between generosity and stinginess born of fear
in between open hearts and locked doors
in between “thy kingdom come” and “forgive us our sins”
There is so much social pressure to be jolly and festive this time of year both in secular society and in the church. Those of us who aren’t jolly, who are aware of their in-between status, can feel oddly out of place.
Guess what? That’s all right.
The traditional church name for these weeks before Christmas is Advent. Advent, was historically a rather solemn season of waiting. The early church knew our joyful anticipation of Christ’s coming cannot happen without awareness of the broken present. Historically and some branches of Christianity today, Advent is a time of fasting. The liturgical color for Advent is purple, the same color as Lent.
We live in the in- between. Christ has come and Christ will come again. Advent reminds us of this. We tell the old stories about Jesus’ birth, familiar, comforting and yet odd and disconcerting.
Advent is not about jolly festivities but rather joyful anticipation as we encourage each other to be about the work of disciples, feeding, caring, loving.
And the acts we encourage and the things we do as a secular society can actually help us feed, care, and love each other. Even if people are not religious, during “The Holidays” folks make an extra effort. We donate food. We pluck names off Christmas trees in our office, or in the mall and give presents to strangers. We give to Toys for Tots. We give year-end donations to our favorite causes. We take cookies to neighbors. We visit nursing homes. We gather as neighbors to watch plays about Santa and Elves and Flying reindeer. We put lights on trees and sing together on a cold, dark December night.
In the midst of frenzied consumerism, much good is done. People are fed, community ties are strengthened, neighbors are cared for. If I open my eyes, I see God at work in familiar and comforting ways as well as in odd and disconcerting ways.
It’s three weeks until Christmas. Don’t worry about the jolly festivities. Seek the glimpses,that are all around us, of God at work in familiar and odd ways. Find your way to participate in the familiar and odd work that is happening all around you as we wait in joyful anticipation.