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12.16.2013

Advent 2013

I've been called upon several times in last few weeks to defend my love for Advent. It seems people fall into two camps: those who relish the festivities (the warm fires, the Christmas music, the trees and lights), and those who are overwhelmed by the busyness—or worse, the memories of loss—that the season makes unavoidable.

We're called to rejoice though we are sad, rest though we're busy, and step into the celebration of something very old with all the eagerness of children, for whom it is still very new. It's a hard season of contradictions. And those are the very reasons for which I love it.

I love it the way I love inclement weather. Because it forces you to look up from what you're doing and take steps to meet it. I live most of my life in a contented little fog, almost absurdly present in this particular moment and no other. It's hard for me to step into the past or the future without some kind of catalyst. That's why I love stories—novels and film, television, fairy tale. And that's why I love Advent. It takes me out of myself.

But it also reminds me to feel. It's good to remember the things we've lost, the ones we've loved, the hopes that have risen up to God and not quite made their way back down again. We need to face them. I wonder if one of the reasons so many people don't like Advent is because we've forgotten how to feel properly. How to give the epic strains of our lives their proper due. We like to be in control, and this season takes us out of our own hands.

It does this because of the Incarnation, which was both an earthly, overwhelming, impractical experience for those involved (you know, Mary and Joseph), as well as a cosmic, epic, divine experience (angels, visions, mysterious visitations). And it did not end with a birth. The Incarnation was the most essential fact of the presence of Christ as he walked on the earth. Because he walked on the earth. His miracles involved good wine and coarse bread. He got tired and hungry, he liked gardens and boats, and his friendships almost invariably involved getting together in dining rooms or around watering holes. We're familiar with this Jesus. We've forgotten that before the first Advent, God did not walk the earth. There was a long, silent waiting period between the cool of the evening in Eden the night of the birth of our Lord.

For the past three Sundays, I've been reading the following poem in our church service:

Now we enter the liminal space,
where heaven and earth touch
with trembling fingers.
In places so thin, Christ enters in.
Regardless if we recognize his face,
his presence lingers—
leaving behind finer wine,
multiplying the bread,
shedding the scales from our eyes
till we pause,
between the carol and clutter,
to encounter him.

This is what we recognize in Advent, and we recognize it because of our busyness, because of our sadness, because of the cold and the loss. The Incarnation has given all of these things meaning beyond themselves. The God from whom we were distant is now imminent. The story has been quickened.

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