I remember being in college listening to a super-spiritual professor tell us all about the church calendar. I could not believe somebody could find it in themselves to become genuinely ecstatic about the rhythm of the church, but there he was, almost squealing with joy over the idea of words like Maundy, Pentecost, Holy Names, Epiphany and Advent. I probably would have tuned him out at the time but he was also talking about The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’ concept of myth, so, of course I would listen to the guy no matter what. Over the years since, I can feel myself becoming my quirky little prof.
Growing up, my favorite day of the year was always Christmas Eve. Our family would all be together, reading stories, singing songs, watching movies about snowmen- some amiable and some abominable- and anticipating the coming day of ham, Santa, football and even more family. As wonderful as Christmas day was at our house, I cannot remember one time feeling that all of my hopes were fulfilled- not that my Christmas presents were no good, or that mom burned the ham, or that the Cowboys, not the 49ers were on, but the day only left me longing for more. Even at the end of the night, when the family would sit down to watch Johnny Depp depicting a dude with scissors for hands, I just wanted the day to be suspended in time. I never wanted it to end. I always wanted more Christmas.
So maybe you can look at this season in the church calendar like an extended Christmas Eve- let the anticipation kill you. Let the excitement overwhelm you. This is too much hope for one night. This is too much longing for a b.b. gun. This is too much gladness to be satisfied with the first meeting of your extended family. This is too much peace to be crammed into an hour in-between wrapping that last present and snuggling in for your long winters’ nap. This is too much love to be shared by a few relatives.
If we are honest, many of us can point to times that our hope was too crushed to look forward to Santa’s gift of socks and board games. We have been so far away from joy around the holidays that we have forgotten the feeling we could call glee. We have been too troubled and hurried to know peace. We have been so far apart from those we love, whether by their sickness, death or abandonment that we will take numb and survive till January.
Whether those feelings are memories or realities, we have a true reason to rest in joy, hope, peace and love this holiday season. This is the time of year we remember that God showed his unending, passionate, boundless devotion for us that he became a man. He lived the same life we are in the midst of, felt the same feelings we are weighed down with and knew the same loneliness we are so afraid to name. He took on our loneliness, our pain, our separation, our hell, our sadness, our fear, our betrayal and our exhaustion simply because he is for us.
This is a joy that lasts through loss. This is a peace that passes all understanding. This is a love that is boundless, omnipotent and irreversible. This is a hope that does not disappoint.
No wonder my little prof was so excited: ‘Tis the season to remember that God is for us.
Over the Advent season, we will be reflecting on the themes of hope, peace, joy and love in sequential weeks, following the church calendar. The reflections will mainly focus on the readings in the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer. Feel free to follow along and join in the conversation!