Since last Thursday was Thanksgiving, it seems like the world is now in full Christmas season. Although a lot of department stores already looked that way before Halloween. (But let's not get into that here. Christmas season starts when you see Santa in the parade, but like I said, lets not get into that here.) I've even got my decorations up. Or I should say my decoration. My house, being both my home and my brother's studio, isn't conducive to decorations for any holiday. But I have one of those Charlie Brown Christmas trees. I have put it up the past four or five years. One day I'll live somewhere that I can decorate a bit more, but for now this does the job.
As a people we all love the Christmas season. It's a season which promises us that everything will work out. That no matter how bad things have gotten over the past year(s) things will make a turn for the better. It's what every holiday movie tells us and what every commercial is now trying to sell us. And if all we have to look forward to is Christmas, we will ultimately be let down. Because Christmas tries to promise us what it can't deliver.
Please note that I love the Christmas season, with the exception of my old, drafty house getting cold. I am not trying to be a Scrooge. At least I'm not trying to be like he was at the start of the story. But in this season we have lost something. Through all that is going on we have become a people who, for the most part, celebrate Christmas and forget Advent.
For those of you that may not be familiar, Advent is part of the Church calendar. Advent is a word which means, 'the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.' In the Church calendar it begins on the first Sunday of December and is designed to make us feel an anticipation for Christmas morning. Not in wait of gifts to be had, but for the true Giver to be welcomed.
For many of us it's easy to simply flip the page from the last words of the Old Testament to the genealogy of Christ in Matthew. But what we can so often forget is that the time on that single blank page which separates the two is about four hundred years. Four centuries when God was silent and people sat in wait. Knowing that God has promised, but no longer sure if He remembered that doing so.
I have no way of knowing how this year went for you. Perhaps you have kept to each resolutions you made almost a year ago. Maybe this year you have no shame you hide from, no sins you regret, no wounds which seem not to heal, and no prayers which seem to go unanswered. If that is the case I am quite happy for you. But I am willing to bet that you year looked a little more like mine. And mine looked nothing like that. Not by a long shot.
Contrary to what is often said in churches these days, Jesus didn't come to simply make us happy, healthy, and wealthy. No, He came for so much more. The first advent of Christ* was a proclamation that God would come and dwell with us. That He would no longer be silent. This is why we boast of Immanuel, God with us.
I'm not sure how your Bible is laid out, but in mine that name is given on the first page of St. Matthew's Gospel. But why? Why has God chosen to come and dwell with us? Nearly thirty years after the angel says these words Jesus first steps into the pubic eye and proclaims that He is the one that they have been waiting for. He does this by going up to the front of the church and reading from Isaiah 61.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.**"
I don't know what your bank account looks like, though it probably looks better than mine at the moment. But there is a poverty that stretches further than numbers in a bank account. Studies have shown that we are living in the loneliest time in all of human existence. We have become a people who are emotionally and communally poor. And into that poverty the advent of Jesus brings good news that it need not be that way. That within the community of the Church He gives is a wealth greater than we could imagine.
Not only that He says that He has come to proclaim liberty to those who are captive. Captive not only in a physical sense. For many of us are captive, though most of us are not behind bars. We are captive to the shame of our past. Captive to the thoughts and words of others. Captive to the lies we continually speak to ourselves. And into this captivity the advent of Jesus speaks that there is a freedom offered no matter how many times you have tried to free yourself before.
He goes further and promises sight to the blind. And though we know that Jesus often healed the physically blind, and can do so still, Scripture speaks of a blindness more damning than that. So many in this season see Christmas and only know the shadow, for they are blind to the substance of the Advent. And this goes past those who are not in the Family. Many of us, who are called by the name of Christ, can become blind and suffer from spiritual 'tunnel-vision'. And in this season the advent of Christ promises that He will open our eyes to who truly He is and what He has called us to.
Then, as if this was not enough, Christ tells that his advent means that liberty will come to those who are oppressed. There are many ways which we as a people may find ourselves oppressed. Some of you reading this, like me, find your oppressor to be named depression. Some are oppressed by a crippling anxiety that you have come to believe will never be lifted. Some among us are oppressed by a system in this country that has long targeted people who don't need to get a tan each summer. No matter how it comes, we are all oppressed far more than we would care to admit. Lord knows I am. And within the advent of Jesus we are given hope that this is not how things shall always be.
The last things which Christ says His advent will bring is the year of the Lord's favor. I do not believe that this means that our bank accounts will suddenly grow and our credit scores will all jump to green, although that may be the case for some. I believe that this promise is the culmination of the rest. This is the promise of Immanuel. No matter where life has brought you in this past year, in this season, in this moment, Christ offers you Himself. He has come to dwell with us. He has come to walk with us. He has come to take all that we have tried and tried to rid ourselves of, and in return He gives us Himself. He has come to bring reconcile us to God, making us His own brothers and sister.
This past year I have often forgotten this. May times I have not believed the truth that Christ spoke. But that is yet another reason for His Advent, knowing how forgetful we can be. How forgetful I can be.
So if you are anything like me, maybe, just maybe, you have also been awaiting Advent. Maybe you have been waiting to be reminded of the good news, waiting on liberty, seeking sight, desiring freedom, and needing favor. And maybe you didn't even know it till now.
*There will be a second advent. For Christ will soon return to gather His own to Himself...Maranatha.
**Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19