Not something a lot of people pay much attention to these days.
Too busy I suppose.
And it often seems too abstract – too conceptual for people to relate to. Especially the way it’s tackled by a lot of clergy. Somehow they manage to turn it into a guilt trip for people who get pumped up about the whole celebration side of things. That’s a shame.
For me, the four weeks of Advent are not “religious.” I would use a different word – spiritual.
And while there are other themes and names for the weeks, I like Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
They’re not tied to denominational polity, or to doctrine, or to dogma.
They’re evocative of our mindset – they resonate with what the underlying message of the Christian faith tells us about Christmas.
Frankly, there will always be too much commercialization in Christmas – Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was written in a society that largely thought as Scrooge did, that “making merry” was a sin – unless there was a buck to be made as well.
They thought that Christmas should be “business as usual”; that those who, like Scrooge, could make money deserved money and the privileges it brought; and that those who couldn’t deserved what they got. They considered charity, and compassion, and love to be weaknesses. Were there no prisons? No workhouses.
It’s an attitude that humanity has always struggled with. There are times when it seems to be on the rise yet again.
But in the midst of it all, there will always be Hope.
Not hope for a “Second Coming” as some of the Revised Common Lectionary readings talk about this week. Rather, Hope that in our celebration of the First Coming we’ll recognize the Divinity of our relationship with Emmanuel, the reality of God With Us.
Scrooge, after all, wasn’t sent to some fire and brimstone hell. He was transformed by the agapé relationship he shared with Tiny Tim, and Bob Cratchett, and yes, with poor old Jacob Marley.
Tiny Tim didn’t die, but neither did Ebenezer Scrooge. He didn’t “get what was coming to him.” Instead, he lived. He lived in a way that he had never lived before. And his transformation helped to transform the people and the world around him. He began to live in a way that recognized the inseverable connection that exists between all of us.
That transformation and that Hope is what Christmas offers to all of us.
It doesn’t matter that the Christmas Story as we have it today isn’t “historically accurate.” It doesn’t matter that our Nativity scenes show wise men and shepherds as if they both showed up on Christmas night. Or that, based on the Gospel accounts, the “reality” of Jesus’ birth would likely put it in the summer time.
None of that matters.
What matters is that when we hear the stories, when we gaze on the Manger, when we listen to the carols … that we have Hope.
Hope that, like Scrooge, the world can be changed.
Not by divine intervention, but by the transformation of each and every one of us.
The symbolism of the Nativity story is not the image of a mighty warrior charging into battle. It’s the symbol of a God who has so much faith in us that we are entrusted to care for God as we would for a newborn child.
God’s Hope, and ours, is that we nurture each other and the world with all of the love and compassion that we would that child.