The Heart of Advent
The most basic definition of advent is a coming into being. In preparing for Christmas this year, I wonder how do we “…come into being…” this Advent? How do we rekindle our focus on the greatest advent the world has seen, that which culminated in the birth of the Son of God? Drawing near to God is crucial, but how do we draw near to God during this time of wonder? All the trappings of Christmas are tradition and no doubt a welcome enjoyment. But how do we see beyond the bustling with tinsel, lights, cookies and presents?
In the Christmas story, Mary experienced a “coming into being,” an advent of her own. “Do not be afraid,” the angel declared Christ’s coming birth to his young mother. An encounter of the simple with the divine and the whole world would be changed forever. What faith Mary had answering the angel, “Let it be as you say. I am a bond-servant of the LORD.” A bond-servant. Not just a servant, but one who sells themself into servitude. She had the freedom to choose. Yet, she chose to accept the circumstances laid before her. The public scorn would have been tremendous for a young pregnant Jewish bride. The cost so great, she likely would lose her husband in the process. Her life would be changed forever. None of that mattered. She took the angel’s words to heart, believing she needn’t fear and that she was “…most highly favored…” by God himself.
Mary offered herself to be a dwelling for the Christ child; in the womb, through infancy, toddlerhood, boyhood, and manhood. She even followed him to his death on the cross. She had to have known the prophecies about Israel’s Messiah King, perhaps even knowing that one day he would ultimately pay the greatest price for his people. Yet, she took on the role of the mother of the Christ child with wonder in her eyes. We’re told she pondered these things in her heart. Mary willingly became a dwelling for the King of Kings, despite any pain she might endure. In doing so, she was blessed to experience the closeness of a relationship with the divine.
At the crux of coming into being this Advent is a willingness to be a dwelling for God. Like Mary, to experience being with him, not doing for him. Come near to me and I’ll draw near to you, he tells us. Emmanuel – Christ with us. A revolutionary concept today, just as much as it was two thousand years ago. All the power of the divine rests in Christ. Christ’s birth should be celebrated, not because it gives us the opportunity for all kinds of Christmas revelry. It should be celebrated with joy and thanksgiving, because it turned the whole created world upside down with an offer of divine proportion. The God of the universe extended an open invitation for every man, woman and child to enter into a living and life-altering relationship with him.
The heart of Christmas isn’t merrymaking, it is life itself. And that life is in Christ. “I am the way, the truth and the life. I’ve come to give them life and life to the fullest,” he tells us. “Come to me, you who are weary and heavy burdened. Come to me and I shall give you rest.” The traditions of Christmas aren’t sufficient balm for the ache of living in a world fraught with great difficulty and pain. Who but God himself could meet us in our darkest moments, bringing us healing tenderness, strength and comfort? For the orphans hidden deep in third world squalor; for those facing down a terrifying sickness in a loved one; for those broken with guilt over what they’ve done; and for the loneliest of the lonely – there is one who can meet you where you are, one who desires to know you. As the angel declared, he was born “…for you…” on Christmas day.
Come near to him and delight in the divine. Allow him to dwell in your heart and you will experience his transforming, life-giving power. Come experience his rest in the midst of the worst turmoil this world can throw at you. His peace is real and never-ending. The greatest present ever given – Emmanuel – God with us. Walking with us, carrying us, filling us with the hope that can only come from the divine. Come near and experience him this holiday season. Come to the manger, he’s waiting.
Photo by Maija/KIIW – DeviantArt