Advent is normally my favourite season of the church year. I don’t think that is uncommon for pastors.
Christmas and Easter are of course the big celebrations, but Advent and Lent have a certain depth and richness, that allow Christmas and Easter to be what they are. Advent and Lent add the flavour to the meal.
For me, the richness of Advent is found in the images – the way of Lord, valleys filled up, mountains made low, crooked made straight, broods of vipers, winnowing forks and chaff, angels and virgins, and promises and hints of Messiah.
Advent’s beauty is in the blending of hints and promises of Messiah together with real life. With the messiness of people looking for something better. The people in the desert going to John the Baptist, looking for something different than what they knew. The hypocrisy of religious and political leaders, which is a true as death and taxes. A teen girl dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and the reality of impossible life choices.
Advent speaks to the real circumstances that people – everyday, average people – deal with all the time.
And Advent weaves the coming of Messiah through it all. Christmas tells us of the extraordinary. Advent brings God close to the ordinary.
But this year, Advent has not felt so hopeful.
This year I feel like I am being dragged into Advent, and the hope and anticipation just isn’t there.
Instead, all the messy, crappy, broken stories of God’s people that we hear in Advent are hitting too close to home.
Terrorism, shootings, bombs, political leaders vowing revenge feels all to close to world of the seeking crowds, the oppressive world of tyrant kings, the violent world of occupied Israel.
Violence being condoned towards women and their bodies simply because they bear the child of a man, sounds too much like the possible stoning that Mary could have endured had Joseph chosen to dismiss her. A pregnant and unmarried woman was basically worthless and damage good… a sentiment that too many entitled white men still feel about women.
Syrian refugees fleeing the exact part of the world that the holy family was forced to flee because of violent rulers being fearful of young boys growing into terrorists just feels eerie. Somehow this year, we became all the innkeepers who turned the holy family away because they were too different and unsafe.
The callous brutality of Herod and the Romans feels like the unwillingness of American politicians to consider the smallest modicum of gun control. Royal death squads sent to murder infant boys are the price Herod paid for power and money. Daily mass shootings are the price to pay for an unregulated gun industry.
Advent stories are coming at us in the news as often as they are coming from the bible this year.
Advent has always beautifully shown us the interweaving of incarnation and reality. But this year, the stories we read, preach and hear in the church are reality in the world. We have become a people waiting for and in need of a Messiah.
Advent is our reality.
We are living out Advent in real time.
And maybe that is why we need Advent more than ever.
Without Advent, our current troubles would make celebrating Christmas a farce.
Without Advent, our current troubles would be all there is in the world.
Without Advent, our current troubles would eclipse any glimpse God at work among us.
Advent is sucking this year because the world is sucking this year. Somewhere between racist political campaigns in Canada, ISIS, Paris, US Gun Violence, Climate Change realities and all the other stuff our world is suffering from… the illusory veneer of the “Christmas season” was stripped from us.
And maybe that is the point.
Maybe the real the world has to be held out in front of us, maybe we need to see the unvarnished, un-white-washed, naked world to really get it.
Maybe Advent needs to be real so that we can get that the incarnation is real too.
To get that Messiah is coming into this Advent world.
Stir up your power Lord Christ and come.