Posted by: Philip Rushton | December 11, 2012

Why Christmas Makes No Sense Without Advent

Have you ever had someone walk in on you when you are watching a climactic scene in a movie? It can be a frustrating experience. You have been waiting a long time for this moment. You have endured all the tragic twists and turns in the story and have become emotionally invested in the characters. When the resolution finally arrives their is a sense of relief and joy. However, while you might have tears rolling down your cheeks, the latecomer usually has a blank stare. Not knowing what is at stake in this climactic moment, the story seems trivial to them.

The blank stare is often accompanied with unsolicited comments that interrupt the movie. Either there are the comments that belittle your emotional reaction – “This seems a bit melodramatic,” or “How can you watch this stuff.” Or there are the incessant questions that try to help the onlooker get caught up on all the important details so that they can figure out what is going on. Whatever the case may be, the latecomer has missed the impact of the climax because they entered the story too late.

I think this helps to explain why the season of Advent is important. If we hope to experience the impact of Christmas we need to enter the story early. In order for us to understand the great hope of the coming savior, we need to begin by recognizing our need for salvation. That is what Advent seeks to do. It is a time where we rewind the story of scripture to the place where the people of God were without hope. We read the texts that anticipate a light that will come into the darkness. We read texts that help us recognize our brokenness so that we might create space for God to come to us.

The problem, however, is that we don’t always want to engage this early part of the story. We like the climactic moment, but we do not always want to endure the unresolved and messy parts. The human story is not always an easy one to watch, let alone live. More often then not it involves tragic experiences that we would prefer to fast-foward through. As a result, we spend much of our Advent avoiding reality. We seek out counterfeit saviors that help us avoid the painful parts of our stories. We try and fill the emptiness in our lives with food, gifts, nostalgic traditions.

However, there is a something greater in store for those of us who are willing to enter the unresolved, dark, and messy parts of the human story. It is only as we do this that the true impact of Christmas will be felt. My prayer is that we will not be caught with a blank stare on Christmas day. Instead, let us courageously enter the story early so that we will we be ready to receive the hope of our coming savior.

I think Thomas Merton sums this up well when he writes:

“Into this world, this demented inn, in which there is absolutely no room for him at all, Christ has come uninvited. But because he cannot be at home in it, because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it, his place is with those others for whom there is no room. His place is with those who do not belong, who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak, those who are discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured, exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is present in this world.”

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Responses

  1. I think people like the “pretty” things about Advent. Candles, rituals, nice sayings and prayers.But the ancient observers were thinking ahead to the second part of this observational custom. Coming into what happens after this life, our brief time here is waiting for the ‘advent-ture’ into the next life with Christ.


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