We are down to just a few more days before Christmas is here. The radio, TV, and internet advertising have all been telling us how many days we have left to spend our cash and get that perfect gift. For me it means that we have just four more days and one more Sunday to soak up the holiness and sacredness of this Advent season.
I love Advent because it points us toward something that we need to see, often at the darkest hour. We have arrived at the darkest time of the year. Tomorrow will the shortest day of the year – that is to say it will be the darkest day of the year. For many, this really is the darkest time of the year. Bills, expectations, hurry, waste, family conflict, broken relationships are often in conflict with the Hallmark image of Christmas that is heaped upon us. Advent is busy redirecting our attention. While we are programmed over and over in every medium to focus on the perfect Christmas hearth with the perfect family singing the note-perfect version of Silent Night in pretty Christmas clothing, Advent says STOP – turn around and have a look at what is really happening in your life and see that God is present to it – even if what you see when you turn around and look is a real pile of cow dung!
In Thomas Merton’s easy “Advent: Hope or Delusion?” we read,
The certainty of Christian hope lies beyond passion and beyond knowledge. Therefore we must sometimes expect our hope to come in conflict with darkness, desperation and ignorance. Therefore, too, we must remember that Christian optimism is not a perpetual sense of euphoria, an indefectible comfort in whose presence neither anguish nor tragedy can possibly exist. We must not strive to maintain a climate of optimism by the mere suppression of tragic realities. Christian optimism lies in a hope of victory that transcends all tragedy: a victory in which we pass beyond tragedy to glory with Christ crucified and risen.
We fall into the trap of thinking that a faith filled life is to be void of trouble or grief. It is the sort of trap that leads to some of the foolish things people will say in the face of tragedies. “Everything happens for a reason.” How about, “God must have had a reason for this.” One of my personal favorites is, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” We have all heard these things and at some point we may have even said these things. But do we really think God is that cruel? I really don’t think so. I have come to understand that when really bad things happen in my life God is saddened by it. I think when the Christmas turkey explodes in the oven and the family all start arguing over what to do next – God is saddened too! Advent encourages me to look past the tinsel Christmas that we wait for to see that God is at work and present to me even in crisis and even in pain. Advent directs my attention not just to the wood of the manger but beyond that to the wood of the cross. In the midst of anguish, in the midst of pain, in the midst of broken relations, or imperfect turkey dinners – God is still present. God transcends all of it! Advent reminds us that the Incarnation celebrated in Christmas was fulfilment of a hope of a God who would so know our human condition that we might never be alone- not alone in joy and not alone in sorrow! The fulfilment of that promise is the passion and the cross.
As we come near its end I give thanks for Advent because it has called me to see God at work in my life even when my situation is less than ideal or less than perfect. I am thankful for Advent because when I stare into the deepest darkness and see the vilest tragedy imaginable, I see a God who can transcend that. Advent gives me hope that is in direct conflict with darkness, desperation, and ignorance.
Enjoy these last days of Advent – they are a gift!