We can do better with Advent
Editorialby Everett J. Thomas
They shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.”—Matthew 1:23b
The best way to observe the Advent season: Wait and pray specifically for God to intervene in the ugliness and sin around us and the sin and selfishness within us. In doing so, we can anticipate what it will mean to experience new measures of God’s presence.
But December is a messy month. It is a hodge-podge of carols and images that confuse the meaning of the season. The four weeks of Advent fall victim to this confusion.
To understand the Advent season, we must imagine we are the Israelites of Isaiah’s day (and hearing about this “Emmanuel” to which Matthew refers). These faithful Israelites yearned for relief from an oppressive world and for a king that would rule with integrity and justice. They waited in expectation and hope for this new era, this new and holy kingdom. The plaintive tones of the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” suggest the longing they felt.
But each December in our culture, any remnants of this longing are diluted with “Jingle Bells” and “White Christmas.” In a better world, only secular seasonal music would be played in commercial settings, and carols that celebrate Jesus’ birth would be reserved for Christian worship services. Furthermore, carols that refer to the Nativity would be sung only on Christmas Day and afterward—the Christmas season from Dec. 25 to Jan. 6. But few of us observe the Christmas season and, consequently, December turns into a mish-mash of images and messages.
Perhaps the Advent season has little meaning because we live on this side of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death and resurrection. We have felt God with us many times and cannot relate to the longing that would have been part of the era before Jesus was born.
But there are many ugly elements in our world that we can long for God to remove. There are ugly elements in ourselves for which we anticipate God’s healing presence. So how do we enter the Advent season? Here are some suggestions:
• Ask God to come into our world, where Christians are pitted against Muslims.
• Ask God to come into our country, where shrewd political parties inflame neighbor against neighbor.
• Ask God to come into our homes, where depression and abuse hide behind closed doors and closed relationships.
• Ask God to come into our hearts, where sin and selfishness expel God’s presence.
The last verse of the hymn says it for us:
O come, Desire of nations, bind
all peoples in one heart and mind.
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease.
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
The Advent season is the beginning of a new church year; this mostly ignored season can remind us to wait in anticipation for the new ways God will be with us in this next year.
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