Rev. Bob Woods
I love Advent and Christmas. Yes, I know from seminary that Easter is more important, the “realization of our eschatological hope” and so on. But Advent is a time of joyful, patient expectation leading to the one perfect Gift, the birth of the One who died and rose for us. “Be patient, beloved, until the coming of the Lord… Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” (James 5:7-10) That seizes my heart and dreams and imagination and renews my joy and hope. OK, I admit it, my inner child leaps forth and I welcome that. Christ is a far better gift than even a cool fire truck I got when I was 5. My blessed parents always taught me the reason I got presents was to honor Christ’s gift to me.
December 15 is Gaudete Sunday: “Gaudete in Domini semper,” rejoice in God always. It is a reminder that, while Advent is a time of introspection and repentance in preparation for the first coming and expected return of Jesus, it is also a season of joy. We should rejoice because we can repent, we can self-examine and choose God with confidence He will accept us. It is also a time to look outwards, to see what God has already done, to reflect on the joy of Christ’s impending return in God’s good time.
Beyond that – and here’s an emotional response – people are generally more cheerful and happy, more generous and kind, more open to one another in this season. They may or may not be believers, they may reflect on why they are cheerful or not, but ultimately it is still all about Jesus. Commercial or not, crass or not, no Jesus, no Advent, no Christmas. We have free will, and those who choose to see will do so. Those who see need to reach out to the blind.
It is fashionable to write off these seasons, “It’s just too crass and commercial. That ruins it for me.” I personally reframe that: It is a season when people think about giving gifts, about pleasing and recognizing family and friends, and those gifts honor Christ and reflect in a small way God’s gift to us. Yes businesses capitalize on the season but so what: wittingly or not, it is still ultimately all about the season, about Christ’s birth and our hope for His return. It is a time for Believers to “tell…what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:2-11)
Obviously not everyone receives what they require in the present age, a time when evil still stalks the earth. But there is progress. Hansen’s Disease (“Leprosy”) has been pretty well eradicated, prosthetic limbs are readily available, and many countries have social safety nets. Recently at the university of Edinburgh, a retina was grown from stem cells and implanted in a patient, who now sees for the first time in his life. In short, lepers have been cleansed, the lame have been made to walk and now, even the blind made to see. While people may claim the credit, all such healing is penultimately of God even when wrought through human hands. As a Prayer Book Collect says, “…open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world around us…” We need to proclaim His gifts in this joyous season and always.
And so I end where I started: Rejoice always in God, I say again, rejoice. Our salvation is near, our hearts should be light, we should embrace this holy and wonderful season.