Friday, December 21, 2012

i heard the bells on christmas day

"Advent is about anticipating the birth of Christ. It’s about longing, desire, that which is yet to come. That which isn’t here yet. And so we wait, expectantly. Together. With an ache. Because all is not right. Something is missing." Rob Bell, "Why Should We Care About Advent?"

This year, I began attending a church that takes the church calendar very seriously. And I realized that I liked it. The rhythm of the Christian life is lived out based on our ceremonies and traditions. Some are sad, some are happy, some are both at the same time. But just as the Bible has its hymns of revenge and its poems of romance, there is a wide spectrum present in the church calendar. A spectrum as wide as life itself.

Christmas is my favorite season of the year. That's fairly obvious from the disproportionate amount of blog posts I write about the holiday. But the true reason that I love it so much has never been as clear to me as it has been made through the lens of church tradition.

I enjoy Christmas as much as I do because it follows the journey that Advent has begun in us.

In the same way that it seems like the world is at its most opaque in the silent, cold, stillness of a winter's breath, I hear more from God in the season of Advent. (That may not be true. It just may be that it is the time I focus most on the listening.) Walk outside on the coldest, darkest night of the year and just stand there. You will hear noises you didn't even previously realized existed. More than that, you'll uncover thoughts you didn't know to be inside your own mind. I know that happens to me in this season. It is as if the world itself has more to offer in those long, quiet moments spent in solitude.

This is the season in which we welcome our coming Savior. Not very unlike the season the Israelites once welcomed him into. Except they had not been waiting since the end of the Thanksgiving meal but instead hundreds of years. Mostly spent in bondage and oppression and in the dimming light of the hope of a promised Messiah. It would have been a natural consequence of their long wait for them to lose faith in their interpretation of God's promise to them or maybe even in the idea that God would make us a promise at all.

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

Of course, this year we cannot bring an end to Advent and shine the light of Christmas without having within all of our minds Newtown, Connecticut. There are no words and no comfort to combat the coldest, darkest tragedy that I can imagine.

And yet there is Christmas. One thing I have learned in difficult moments this year is that the days do pass whether or not we recognize it as the pages on the calendar's days flip by. For the families who can never again be whole because of this tragedy, I have only my sympathy and my prayers to offer. And these seem like wretched things in light of the magnitude of the loss that was suffered.

Our entire nation has been set back on its heels from the violence played out on the news. Unlike most tragedies, this one has hit a personal chord. This shouldn't happen. Not in our country. Not in our towns. Not in our schools. The immediate response is one of confusion at a tragedy so senseless. And then an urgent cry to prevent anything like this from ever happening to another family again.

Still we know that even if we improve public policy, we can no more reverse time to prevent what happened than we can to stop death entirely. The violence that exists in our minds can be a betrayal of our biologies or our minds or even our very nature. And when the violence spews forth from within to hurt those that form our communities without there will be losses suffered. We lost the lives of precious children in Sandy Hook and we lost the innocence that accompanies an age where wonder and delight rule over cynicism and hatred.

As the President read the names of the fallen in his speech last week or as the bells rang out 26 times this morning to commemorate those that were lost in a moment of silence, it would be understandable to let this world and this act of terror plunge us into a state of hopelessness. Or to turn on each other and propel ourselves into a divisive political blame game looking to point the finger at who is at fault for this feeling of helplessness and grief.

But the promise of Christmas is that the darkness of this season will be pierced by an unmistakable light. That the silence of this dark and lonely night will be broken by the cries of a baby from a manger.

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor does He sleep (He is The Lord)
(He is The Lord)
The dark shall fail, the light prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Still, we cannot forget that as those cries from the mouth of the baby will one day turn to giggles to words of wisdom to comfort and healing to our very salvation, they will also turn to cries of anguish as this hope seems to be extinguished by a cross. God's very nature is to bring light into darkness, to bring form into chaos, to bring meaning into despair. We may not always understand it but he has set  the entire world to the rythym of this truth.

And so at Christmas the promise we cling to is just that moment of hope, of light in a dark place, or joyful clamor into the silence. If we can have just that moment to capture and to cherish, I believe we'll have strength for the journey ahead.