I have celebrated Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, for as long as I can remember: lighting candles on the advent wreath, opening daily one little window on a cardboard advent calendar to find chocolate and a Bible verse, memorizing my line for the pageant at church. As part of a Christian family, I understood that Advent was the season in which we waited for the arrival of God’s gift, baby Jesus. As an American child, I knew the countdown was on for Santa’s arrival and the gifts he would bring, too!
But up until this year, I do not think I ever truly experienced Advent.
Though it’s a little unclear as to when and where Advent began to be observed, we know its origins are linked to a time of fasting and penitence; preparing for the mysterious incarnation of Emmanuel, “God with us,” is connected to us recognizing our need for a Savior. Life is hard, we are struggling, we cannot save ourselves. God, please come! Advent, of course, leads us to Christmas, the day set aside to celebrate Christ’s birth. This comes just days after the winter solstice, during the darkest week of the year.
Somewhere along the line, Christian Christmas festivities adopted traditions of other winter celebrations. People in northern Europe lit candles and hung evergreens to recognize light that shines in the darkness, life that endures the most frigid cold. It makes sense that Christians would associate light and life with the coming of Christ.
Perhaps that is why, this year, Advent and the promises of Christmas bring new meaning. Perhaps this year, more than ever, all of us — despite our religious beliefs — need a reminder that light overcomes the dark, life abides, and hope, love, joy and peace still reign in human hearts.
As a pastor, I have witnessed how the discourse and division in our country and world are affecting our families and institutions. We do not know who to trust. We worry about who sees us an enemy, simply based on who we voted for or how we feel about the latest issue. We feel misunderstood and easily become isolated, believing that no one else understands the pain, confusion, loneliness or anger we feel. Life is hard. We are struggling. We do not know how to save ourselves.
But on this special night, whether you sing about hope and joy while lighting a candle at church, gather with loved ones around a table filled with good food, or experience your loneliness and grief in deeply profound ways, may you know that Christmas is about Light and Life. May you sense the hope, love, joy and peace the Christ-child brings. May you experience the wonder and promise of the holiday after a long and dark season of waiting. May you have a blessed, meaningful, and Merry Christmas!