Last week, I, like many fellow Star Wars fans awaited the release of the new movie trailer. With great anticipation we sought to gain new insight into the unfolding of one of the greatest movie franchises of all time. We listened and watched and then debated what was revealed. Yet nothing in the world actually changed. The tragic and hateful actions of ISIS remained. The debate surrounding grand jury decisions in Ferguson, MO and now New York, remain. That, and another black Friday complete with the usual slate of horrific actions of greed once again came and went.
What also happened over this course of time was that there were cancers removed from people. There were homeless who were fed and in some cases, even housing and new jobs began. Babies were born too. These are ordinary though. I don’t think it so much that we have allowed Christmas to be commercialized to be the problem. I am beginning to think it is we no longer consider the birth of Jesus Christ to be that miraculous.
Back in January of the year 2000, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and our unborn daughter did a back-flip in the womb to put herself in a breech position. Our son was just 17 months old. A hundred years prior and certainly just 200 years prior, it would have been a real good chance that both my wife and daughter would have died in childbirth and a few years later, I would succumb to cancer, leaving my son an orphan. We understood mortality. There are many who still do all over our world today.
"The miracle that breaks the rules reminds us that the rules themselves are miraculous,” writes Simon Tugwell. I have no idea what the mortality rate in giving birth would have been in the Middle East over 2,000 years ago but I suspect it was much worse than what it is today. Every birth, I suspect, was seen as a miracle to some degree.
Like so much, I think we take for granted and have ceased to see the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ. We do not resonate with the despair of the Jews of the first century living under the rule of Rome. Being desperate for the newest iPhone or game system or upgrading to the newer model of BMW, does not qualify as despair.
We need Advent. We need the fullest expressions of the season we can muster. We need to find in our hearts the real despair of our souls. It may mean we have to get in contact with the despair and isolation of someone else. What we dare not do is to neglect the time and preparation leading up to Christmas morning for if we do we will miss the miraculous! Advent gives our imagination permission to walk in the footsteps of those whom the prophet Isaiah describes when he declares, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned (9:2)." We might also find we find we are in the darkness ourselves.
We need the church for this. We need the gift of age and experience for they often have known despair and the shadow of darkness is often a closer companion. And we need the imagination of children, the playfulness and willingness to imagine. In the end, it is choice we make to be willing to follow the story as it has been past down to us. I’ve always thought Janet Hagberg said it best when she writes, “God does not make us move. God’s grace allows us to move. (The Critical Journey, 14).” If we are going to move; if we are going to be moved by the Advent story, it will be God’s grace which will free us. We need a kataphatic spirituality, a spirituality with room for symbols and beauty for we need the full support of the Church for the story, the story of incarnation - the birth which is more than a birth - a miracle which reveals the miraculous!
The symbols surround us. The liturgy is present to guide us. The music paints the pictures for us. The proclamation speaks to us. Why? “Because Christ is God’s real symbol, the icon of God, God is really present in a positive way,” writes Harvey Egan (“Christian Mysticism,” 403). Don’t miss out on the opportunity to meet God in the fullness of this season! We dare not miss the miraculous because we see miracles as commonplace - God has not abandoned us...the Prince of Peace IS coming.
Let me suggest at the least, fourteen suggestions of ways to make room this Advent:
- Been in worship for every worship service.
- Attend worship where the Advent readings take place.
- Find a Chrismon tree and spend time learning about the symbols.
- Research the meaning of all the Christmas colors used in churches.
- Volunteer to help where ever there is a need.
- Don't miss the Children's programs and pagents.
- Hear any special choir performances.
- Help feed the homeless.
- Give away at least one coat in a coat drive.
- Ask your pastor why they are preaching on certain texts during this Advent.
- Volunteer to read and light Advent candles.
- Volunteer in the nursery.
- Hold a baby at least once during Advent if you can.
- Attend worship at least once at a church of different denomination.