I admitted over on Facebook just a few moments ago that while it is not yet even the season of Advent, I have already started up my holiday music. It was, of course, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek admission aimed particularly at my former seminary classmates and other colleagues. Any of us who were in seminary sometime in the past 20 years or so have been well-taught not to get to Christmas too soon. I have been teased even around here (hopefully in love) for resisting the urge to get to the Christmas music before the twelve days of Christmas start on Dec. 25 and focusing instead on the coming of Christ, both our memory of his first coming and our hope in the fulfillment of God’s promises at the second.
So here’s my true confession - - I love Advent. I love it even more than Christmas. I love the hoping and the longing and the anticipation. I love the mystery and the symbolism and the darkness that is just begging for the Light of the World. I love the unknown and the desperation. It feels so authentic to me. In my life of faith these aspects of Advent have often spoken to me in deeper ways than the pure joy and elation of Christmas.
My faith journey has not been one of absolute certainty much of the time; it has been one of questioning and struggling, one of wondering and even doubting. There are things I have known that I have forgotten. There are things I have believed from which I have drifted away or that have been transformed in unexpected ways. There have been times when it feels like all the candles of my faith are being snuffed out one by one, when I am left in fear and trembling, longing for, desiring the strength and consolation that is promised by God. I have felt an aching desire for confident faith, and somehow in these times of wrestling with God and longing after Christ, the Spirit seems most present with me. This is Advent. Whether it’s four weeks before Christmas, smack in the middle of spring, or even stretched over a period of years, this is Advent.
And then, just when I think I’ve lost it all, the glimmer of God’s grace, the light that comes into the dark which the darkness cannot overcome, starts to appear on the horizon. New revelations brighten the landscape, light chases away shadows, and knowledge of God’s love and providence reign the day. Christmas comes when at least for a little while love’s pure light shines bright, and the truth and certainty of God’s grace is revealed. Yet, for me, it is the hope of Advent that heightens the joy of Christmas.