I’m prettty sure that when we get the Christmas stuff out of the loft, there will be a tree ornament that declares: “Jesus is the reason for the season”. It will be a message delivered by a sheep or a reindeer (both biblical animals, apparently).
JITRFTS is not found in official church liturgy or scripture. My guess is that it is the brain child of someone who felt Xmas (felt you flinch there) was becoming too commercialised and isolated from the real reason we celebrate it. They felt so strongly they put it on an ornament, to be sold in time for…well you get the picture.
I have to admit I’m pretty poor at this advent stuff. It’s all about patience and reflection on a mystery. We are encouraged to ask: “who will come and save us!” It is about pretending Jesus hasn’t been born yet. It is about pretending we don’t know who exactly John the Baptist is talking about when he says, “Prepare the way of the Lord”. Having read through John’s part in the Gospels, I’m not convinced he was sure either!
I like problems sorted and answers I can serve up confidently. Like most of my culture, I see a mystery as something to be solved rather than as the context of deepening my knowledge of God, my neighbour and the world around me. I’m happier seeing advent as a season of countdown to the big day when there are no parish troubles, everyone is smiling and the words of faith spring easily off our tongues.
This year, however, I’ve decided to give advent a try. The first thing I’ve learned is that Jesus is not the reason for the season of advent. Hope is. Throughout advent We tell the stories of announcement. Mary’s special baby. John the Baptist’s declaration that the kingdom is coming and the only way to be prepared is to repent. We’ll remember ancient prophets who would never see their words come to fruition speaking of Israel’s hope to come. We will get used to the words “fear not” being good advice and a call to opening the door of faith. We are practicing being hungry for hope that God will deliver us and be with us.
We retell the stories not to satisfy some rigid ritual that will increase our heavenly score. We tell them because they were told by and about people who walked in darkness and hoped there was something more. They hoped there would be a light that transformed them and their world.
John the Baptist, whose story we explore a little on Sunday, made a career of looking for that that light because his job was to tell everyone once he found it. He lived in a generation who yearned for it.
Every generation sees its tribulations as unique because we are short lived creatures who measure everything by the brevity of our lives. 9/11 is the worst atrocity ever. We are living through the worst financial crisis ever. We have such a bad deal from our times. But ask anyone who lived through the depression of the 30’s how bad this is. Ask a Hiroshima survivor to measure what happened to them against how bad 9/11 was. If you think you life is hard imagine being a man in Mozambique who will expect to only live to the age of 40.
John has a long vision. He sees that all these episodes are standard behaviour for human beings. This “way of the world” will be judged by the coming kingdom. All who do not “repent” of that way of the world will be lost with it. Hope is an engine that drives us to refuse to cooperate with the way of the world if it does not lead to what we hope for: love and justice and peace and equity. Our hope transforms us into agents of change, working with God to renew the world now.
Advent calls us to have long vision too. For a little over a month we are to live in hope while still shadowed by darkness. It will sharpen our appetite for Jesus and his kingdom. It will help us to taste again what it might be like to live without hope and thinking maybe the darkness is forever. Like John, we should see that as an unacceptable future. Our hope brings light to the darkness, no matter how small that light may seem to us. Powered by Jesus it can and will burn brightly in the lives of others.
Hope is the reason for the season.