As I write this, the sounds of a major Christmas parade float up to my room. I can look down on people sitting on the sidewalk, eating hot dogs, and enjoying one another’s company. It’s a happy time, but it too will end. Many will go home tonight and, as the delight of the floats wear off, struggle to keep going. It’s the reality of brokenness.
I love the Christmas season. With a birthday the day after Christmas, it is a season of celebration. There’s also lots of anticipation. I often begin listening off and on (not consistently) to Christmas music as early as August, partly to spite those who have the “post-Thanksgiving only” ban, and partly because there are few songs better than Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
But this season has felt a little different. In part it’s because I’ve been busy, but it’s also because I, and other dear friends, have been walking through pain both individually and together. This is a time for us that isn’t just about pure joy, but is bittersweet as we reflect on some painful losses or are in the midst of them. And I suspect that this is the case for many of us. Yet doesn’t such an attitude feel out of place, as we look at the happy store windows with beautiful displays, and see beautiful Christmas lights? It certainly seems to be, until I reflect on the first advent.
At Christmas, we always talk about the first Christmas, but not so much the first Advent. It’s because the first Advent is hard to wrap our minds around. It wasn’t just a four week period, it was a centuries-long yearning. The Jewish people had been captured by Babylon in the sixth century BC and despite a brief independence under the Maccabees, had been under someone else’s rule ever since. Even the golden time under the Maccabees had fizzled out as yet another conqueror, the Romans, had moved in and taken over.
In such an environment, we can imagine the people yearning for someone to save them, for the Messiah. It wasn’t a time of great joy, peace, and smiles. It was a time of oppression, fear and struggle. All of this for centuries.
As I think of that first Advent, I think of my own experience of this season. My pain, my bittersweet emotions, don’t seem so unfitting. In fact, they seem to fit right into the season. But they need not last forever, because the Messiah did come, although in a form the Jews were not expecting but which they (like us) needed so desperately – not just the Savior of a people, but the Savior of the world.
So what do we do with pain this season? How do we process the “holiday blues”? I think we should let it have the same effect it had on the Jews – fill us with desperation. We are desperate for a Savior, and he has come, and will come. Our prayer, in the midst of pain, is that he, by the presence of the Spirit, would come into our lives this Advent season.
The first Advent season was difficult. Perhaps yours is difficult this year too. May we let that difficulty drive us to cry out “Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.”
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Grace and peace,