Even my Kleenex box is insisting that I be happy this time of year. The “holiday three-pack” that I purchased is inscribed with the words, “Be merry.” And I know – ‘tis the season. We’re “supposed” to be merry as we wend our way through Advent on our way to Christmas. But what if we’re not? If we can’t manage to utter a “ho, ho, ho” or choose not to put up a tree or skip the decorating and baking altogether, have we somehow failed the annual holiday test? Will we be called a “Scrooge” if we can’t seem to muster any holiday spirit?
Let’s talk Advent. Advent is about “not yet.” Advent is about preparing for God’s arrival in the midst of chaos, war, and despair. Advent is about searching for God – who promises to be with us – in the midst of a time when it seems like God is absent.
If you are not feeling “merry” or “bright,” this might be the year to forego the gaiety that is forced upon us. This may be the time to claim God’s story instead of the commercially produced noise that surrounds us. Society robs us of the original intent of the Christmas story. The real story – our story – is not about silver bells and the wreath hanging on your front door. (Not that there’s anything wrong with those things – go ahead and decorate if/when the spirit moves you!)
The real story is about God seeking out the lost and the lonely. Christmas reminds us of God who enters into the sorrow and sadness of God’s people. Christmas celebrates God who recognizes that people are hurting and does not want them to be alone.
Our story is not a neat and tidy one. It is not about a young woman who has a baby and lives happily ever after. Mary endures a precarious life of poverty. She is a refugee displaced from her hometown during wartime occupation who then flees the country to evade Herod’s threats. She lives long enough to witness her son’s death. Her story reflects the messiness, loss, and hardship of life. Mary discovers that God is faithful. God is with her throughout her tumultuous life. She experiences a companionship that the world cannot imagine.
That’s what we are celebrating during Advent and Christmas. The Good News of Christmas is that God seeks us out. God chooses to be with us. God meets us where we are. We might be lonely and hardworking on a hillside like the shepherds. We might be on a wandering journey of discovery like the wise men. We might be like Mary and Joseph with lives turned upside down by unexpected events. We may be experiencing circumstances that we never could have imagined.
Christmas does not ask us to be “merry.” The Christmas story invites us to experience the promise that God is Emmanuel, always with us. We are invited to give thanks that God is faithful and celebrate the God who dwells among us, no matter where we are.