After the church season of keeping awake and alert. After Advent lighting the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love. As the days grow darker and the candles drip wax growing shorter, eventually the waiting and watching is over. God breaks into the world. Advent is the preparation for Emmanuel, God with us and for us. The candles of hope, peace, joy, and love help direct our gaze toward where we might notice God within us and around us. If we want to know what God is up to in the world, Advent says, look where hope causes the tiny hairs on your next to stand on end. If you want to know where God breaks in try cultivating peace, shalom (wholeness) in your life and in your relationships. If you want to prepare the soil of your soul for Christ, try radical, unconditional love (especially if that means reaching out to someone in a different tribe!) If you want to make room for God, make room for joy. Christmas is the culmination and coming together of hope, peace, joy and love. Those candles are not extinguished on Christmas Eve...they fan the fire and spark the light of Christ, God entering our world. God enters in the most peculiar and unobtrusive way...in a stable? Really, a dirty, dark, damp, dank stable? What kind of God would want to enter that way? Or better yet, what kind of God wants to take on flesh and actually walk around this broken...and sometimes beautiful world?
We have emptied the mystery of Christmas by thinking we've got this story all figured out. Yeah, yeah, yeah we say....Joe and Mary traveling...let me tell you about travel and getting stuck at the Des Moines airport with two small kids. No room for them at the inn...been there...sleep on my in-laws fold out couch with what someone generously called a "mattress". Shepherds, this profession that let their sheep graze on other's property...oh I know about unexpected relatives showing up and grazing on all the egg nog in my refrigerator! Christmas has become mixed and mingled with culture.
What if this year, in December, you let hope, peace, joy, and love really try to sink in and light your way? What if this year, when you write your Christmas cards you pick ONE of those words for each person in your family? Who needs hope right now? Who needs a word of love right now? Who needs peace? And the point is that we can't give that hope, peace, joy, or love. It has already been given and already lives in our world. Christmas is a luminary moment that blurs the past, present, and future. Hope, peace, joy, and love already broke into our world two thousand years ago. Hope, peace, joy, and love are rekindled in our lives right now and set ablaze in our hearts. And the fulfillment of hope, peace, joy, and love will still come as God continues to create and love this world into a new way.
One final thought on the season of Christmas...which is to really let the scandalous love of God enter our world be part of what you mediate upon. To say, God took on flesh because God's love could allow nothing less, is life-changing and we never quite grasp. What wondrous love is this, O my soul, we could sing out. When the tips of the flames of hope, peace, joy, and love touch, what sparks is the light of Christ. What starts to burn brightly is a dream God had from the very beginning of creation, that chaos and brokenness would NEVER have the last word. Christmas is full of mystery and promise and sets the tone for the entire church year.
May you sense a trace of God's grace as we turn the calendar to November and begin to plot calmly the revolutionary love of God's presence, Emmanuel, entering in once again.
Grace and peace