The last few months of 2016 have been interesting, to say the least. For many, the gratitude and joy typically associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to have been replaced by anger, fear, and hopelessness. This is one of the reasons I’m especially grateful for the Advent wreath in our SOA hallway – a generous gift from our friends in Campus Ministry – symbolizing as it does the promise of hope, peace, joy, and love. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been thinking a lot about hope, as of late, and, in this note, I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts as they relate to this Advent season.
When Christians are asked about their favorite holiday season, they’re fairly evenly split between Christmas and Easter – though, at least in my experience, Christmas usually gets the nod. After all, Christmas is about joy, light, and life, and there’s no slogging through the despair, darkness, and death of Good Friday to get to Easter. Indeed, the Christmas “equivalent” to Good Friday, Christmas Eve, is, for many, the most anticipated day of the year (unless, that is, you’re into Black Friday sales). For most children – or, as the song goes, “for kids from one to ninety-two” – this is the “coming” or “arrival” at the center of the Advent season. And yet, I’ve come to realize there are some striking parallels between the Holy Week of Easter and the season of Advent.
This realization has been inspired in part by a wonderful collection of Advent meditations I’ve been reading, based on G. F. Handel’s beautiful and provocative oratorio, Messiah. One movement in particular, the ninth, has really haunted me the last couple of weeks; it’s based on Isaiah 40.6-9 and titled, “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion.” In this passage, the author likens humans to grass and their beauty to flowers, and then sharpens his point by writing, “The grass withers, the flower fades.” Well, that’s certainly hopeful and uplifting, isn’t it? Ultimately, yes, but only when the entire passage is read (or heard) against the often cold, dark, bleak background of lived human experience.
Rest assured the point of this note is not to dampen our holiday spirits. On the contrary, I want to encourage us to see, and to understand, why the light that guided the Magi – who, like us, were living in a dark and deeply divided world – shone so brightly. The tiny baby they sought – believed by Christians to be the human face of God – arrived on the darkest night in human history and, several years later, had the audacity to call himself the “Light of the world.” Or, as Lucy Pevensie, one of the children in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, put it, “In our world, too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”
May the hope, peace, joy, and love of this truly wonder-full season be yours in abundance and in profound, altogether new and surprising ways!