Cases are spiking quickly and deaths are mounting in our host country. There are rumors of another lockdown, and I keep wondering how the virus will affect our holidays. It is hard to make plans, and to know which traditions we will get to keep and which ones we will have to think about differently.
I want to host our traditional Chocolate Fondue night, and invite local friends for some caroling. I want to take our kids to enjoy Christmas lights in a Christian neighborhood in our Muslim country. I want to gather others in our home and welcome them into the hope of this season.
But regardless of lockdowns and whether or not we can host gatherings in our home, this is 2020, where unconventional has become the norm. And so I am already observing Advent – the (normally) 4-week period in the church calendar right before Christmas that both remembers Christ’s birth and anticipates His second coming. The tree is up, hot chocolate with peppermint candy canes is on repeat, and Christmas music is already delighting our earbuds.
I grew up as an evangelical in a Roman Catholic country. We didn’t practice anything that hinted at Roman Catholicism. Observing the church calendar or its liturgies was not something I was aware of. But after living in the US for several years, I became more acquainted with Advent.
The truth is observing Advent has been a game changer for me. It has taught me to live in paradox. It has freed me up to treasure the joy of Christ’s first coming while also mourning that He hasn’t come back yet. If there’s a year for us to learn to live in paradox, it is this one.
Advent is our friend this year. It enables us not to resent that the Christmas season is polluted with grief. It heightens the reality that we are women in waiting– waiting for the consummation of history and for the return of our bridegroom. The small story of our lives is simply joining what history has always been doing- groaning as it waits for one of the two comings of Jesus.
Paradox at Christmastime is just as it should be. Christ’s first coming was filled with paradox. When Simeon saw Christ in the temple, he both rejoiced and prophesied sorrow. Even as he praised God when he saw the long awaited salvation of God’s people, he also told Mary that this baby that she had just delivered, and who would deliver her, would do so at a great cost to her. “A sword will pierce through your own soul.” The same baby would bring judgement to some and exaltation to others (Luke 2:34-35).
His second coming will also be filled with paradox. What will mean glory for all those who have longed for his appearing will mean wailing for those who pierced him. While His children sing, His enemies will bow in terror (Rev. 1:7).
For me, the difference between simply celebrating Christmas and practicing Advent has a lot to do with how I face December. I am not only looking forward to Christmas day (or Noche Buena in Hispanic countries). I am not just going to (or hosting) parties. I no longer expect myself to just be happy.
No, I allow time every day to both remember Christ’s birth and anticipate his second coming. I give space to sit in my grief, in my current unfulfilled longings & fears. I bring them honestly to my Father. I don’t try to mask them (pun intended!) or stuff them down “because Christmas!”
Advent helps me to be OK with the tension –
Yes, Praise God, Christ was born!
Life is not what it should be.
I think the point has far more to do with the paradigm you have for this season, than with how we observe advent. Are you ok with living in paradox? Are you aware that you are a woman in waiting? Do you believe your unfulfilled longings, brokenness and grief fit perfectly with this time?
Christmas is a joy not because it is filled with undiluted joy. It is a joy because it testifies that just as the Incarnation truly happened, He is certainly coming back again. Because of Christmas, I am waiting for the coming of Resurrection in clouds of great glory.
Some resources I am using this year to celebrate Advent:
Really loving this song from Sovereign Grace – O Come All You Unfaithful
David Mathis’ The Christmas We Didn’t Expect
Barbara Reaoch’s Better Than Anything
How are you celebrating Advent this year? What are some traditions that you will be able to keep even in the midst of this crazy year?