There are a lot of people right now who are just not feeling that elusive "Christmas Spirit." You know the one: that idea that everyone has to be happy and joyful for the entire month of December (or longer, if you take your cues from the retail industry). Christmas is supposed to be a time of generosity and love, a time to enjoy friends and family, buy presents that will make the people you care about happy, and a time to eat lots of cookies but somehow not gain any weight.
But 20 young children died last week. People are losing their jobs, and families are losing their homes. A lot of people have strained relationships with their families or have recently lost loved ones, and Christmas Day brings out all the dysfunction you've been trying so hard to ignore.
For a lot of people it's not a very happy time, this Christmas season.
Fortunately, it's not really Christmas.
You might remember Advent from Sunday School or CCD. If you're a church-goer, you might recognize Advent as the excuse your pastor gives for not singing all the Christmas carols you love at church, at least not until the radio stations have stopped playing them.
But just as so many fervent Christians shout out that "Jesus is the Reason for the Season," there is a reason for the season of Advent as well. And the reason is that a celebration of the Savior's birth makes no sense in a world that doesn't recognize its need for salvation.
Isaiah writes in chapter 9:
2 *The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (NRSV)
The light is so important because the people have been living in darkness. They were burdened with yokes across their shoulders, weighing them down. They were under the rod of their oppressors. They lived a reality of tramping warriors and bloody battles bringing terror into their lives. There was pain, and suffering, and misery.
The Christian story does not deny the harsh realities of life. The Christian story is so powerful because Christ comes to us in the midst of those harsh realities.
Advent is not merely a preparation for Christmas; it is the active expectation of redemption and liberation. And in a world where children are murdered, people are homeless and hungry, and families are fractured, we need to know that we are redeemed and liberated. Advent is a time when we look forward in hope and anticipation for better days, even as we acknowledge that although we currently sit in darkness, we have seen a great light.
Don't worry if you're not feeling the Christmas Spirit this year. Advent will meet you exactly where you are, wherever you are.