I’ve spent the morning preparing my first message for Advent. I struggle with this every year. And I’ve come to the conclusion just now that it’s a good thing I do. I’m far too prone to majorly miss the point of this season. Two things seem to happen. Either the expectation of deep transformation, the kind of change in my life, in the church and in the world that is really necessary seems absolutely unachievable. An underlying, powerful pessimism takes hold of every word, thought and endeavor. I can’t help feeling a little like Mr. McGoo (Remember him? Probably not.) whose persistent, monotone refrain to everything was always, “It’ll never work.” How in the world will the world ever be different than it is right now as is seems to spiral down in every way.
That’s one thing that happens when I struggle with an Advent message. The other thing that happens flows in a different direction: No expectations, or expectations that are really small and inconsequential. Maybe you could call it expectation that misses the point or Advent turned into a time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday; which, judging by the money I spend giving presents to others, probably isn’t about Jesus’ birthday at all. Something is drastically missing. Why do we have a season like this celebrating the birth of Jesus and living in expectation that Jesus will come again?
Isaiah has confronted me today. Chapter 61:1-4, 6-8 shapes quite a world. The prophet says it to a people ripped apart and captive in a hostile land. The prophet says stuff like: “The Lord has called me to preach good news to the poor…to bind up the broken hearted…to proclaim freedom to the captives…and release for the prisoner.” Jesus used the text in Luke 4 at the opening of his public ministry to describe the heart of his work. This is a world shifting, earth shattering transformation that is being promised. And it is utterly ridiculous because God promises this to people who live ripped from their homeland and everything they knew to be secure, right and promised. It’s promised to us who waffle between pessimism and irrelevance.
Our Christmases are so tame in comparison! What we expect to happen to us, to the church, to the world so short-sighted. God promises huge things, far reaching transformation in all the places that really matter, in places that any person with any sense of how out of whack the world really is can readily see if they just look around to see it.
Why do we have a season like this celebrating the birth of Jesus and living in expectation that Jesus will come again?
Because God is a God of justice, who identified with the poor and oppressed, and came to earth to bring the kingdom of God against the forces of evil that keep people captive in poverty and oppression. You’ve heard it before. It’s not about Santa Claus and spending a lot of money on presents. Christmas is about a revolution, a foundation-shaking revolution that we are invited to join. A lot of things will have to change in me for me to join in the way Jesus wants me to join.