This season of the year is a time of lights and music, a season when we celebrate the love we have in our lives and exchange gifts with those we hold dear, a season of merriment… or at least it seems like it is supposed to be. The reality is that for many this season is characterized instead by loss, grief, confusion, loneliness, and doubt.
Maybe the reality falls more in the middle for the majority of us. As we approach Christmas we are mindful of the many gifts around us. Not just those wrapped up in bows, but the gifts of smiling children, the magic of anticipation, the joy shared in community gathering. Yet as we open our eyes to the joy and hope around us, we are also more aware of our own brokenness, the losses we have endured and still ache for, the relationships that are crippled and in need of healing, the sadness and loneliness that we feel deep within.
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“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’” Matthew 1: 22-23
Growing up I don’t remember my parents playing a lot of music in the house, but at Christmas time that changed. We listened to Christmas music non stop from Thanksgiving all the way through opening presents on Christmas morning. My mom had an album that was one of her Christmas favorites and it got played at least once a day: Amy Grant’s “Home for Christmas.” The album had one particular song, “Emmanuel, God with Us”, that has left a lasting mark on my Christmas theological reflection.
Many Christmas songs are either completely secular (focusing on the family traditions and seasonal beauty) or completely religious (focusing on the birth of Jesus), but this song bridges the two topics. The first verse calls to mind the beauty of decorations and holiday ambiance paired with family gatherings and story telling, then draws us in to the reason for our celebrations— the birth of Jesus. The second verse reminds us that God is still very much ‘With Us,’: “And still he [Jesus] calls through the night beyond the days of old. A voice of peace to the weary ones who struggle with the human soul.” The final verse sums up the struggle of this season for many: “And the years they come, and the years they go, though we may forget somehow that the child once born in Bethlehem is still among us now.” That forgetting is far too easy. We flood our season with shopping lists and festive parties that can at times cloud our vision of God’s involvement in all of this.
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Each life- our newest babies, each of us, all of those in your life- are beacons of hope. We are each advent messengers of light, showing God has more in store for the world.
This past Sunday we entered the season of Advent. It is a season in the church year that is filled with much symbolism— wreaths and candles, litanies and silence. Advent is a time of anticipation and preparation, when we await Christmas morning in its splendor. Indigo blue is the color of this season. It is meant to remind us of the color of the nights sky just before dawn breaks; when we know that the light will fill the sky, but for now darkness remains. Advent reminds us of how long the night can be.
I don’t need much of a reminder of that reality these days. I am very conscious of just how long a night can be. As a mother of a two month old, it feels at times that I may never sleep again. My nights are peppered with feedings and diaper changes, rocking and cuddles. Instead of looking forward to my head hitting the pillow knowing that restoration and renewal was coming, there are now nights in which I dread going to sleep because I know I am just as likely to find myself more depleted in the morning than rejuvenated.
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