An Advent Confession
By Jane Rubietta
I’m a little red-faced and anxious that underneath all my thoughts of Advent, I feel guilty that there is no fa-la-la-la-la anywhere. No “Here’s how to have a Merry Christmas” hints, fail-safe, time-tested, and photo-shoot ready. No clever jingles to jangle around in our souls’ pockets. But before traveling too far down that path to moroseness, I have to remember: the holidays have turned into a trumped-up excuse to spend money, gain weight, help retailers, and try to make up for what we haven’t given people all year long, or maybe all their lives long. The holidays have become a great attempt at atonement for our deficits with others and maybe our deficits with our souls.
To find the Messiah, we probably need not look under the tree.
Recently, I jotted a list from memory of the advent characters: Herod, Zechariah, Gabriel, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, John, wise men, shepherds, angels, Simeon, and Anna.
And only after mulling over this cast for the story called advent for about a day, did I realize: I forgot Jesus.
I forgot the Christ child.
The centerpiece of the entire story. The reason for the New Testament. The culmination of two thousand years of waiting and prophecy and hope and despair. The Light that came into the darkness. And I forgot to include Him in the cast of characters.
This stunned me with shame. I want to turn my back on myself and walk away, shaking my head, as I lock the office and turn in my keys.
But isn’t this the way it works so often in our society? We try so hard to get to Christmas Day: deck the halls, buy the gifts, clean the halls, wrap the gifts, and try not to deck everyone who gets in the way. We dare to dream that we might find the perfect something for someone who really needs something perfect. We nibble our lips and scrunch our eyes in our concern for others’ experience of Christmas.
Perhaps we hope, too, that someone else will find the perfect something for us, something that will prove they love us, they’ve been thinking of us, that they have an inside line into our secret hopes and dreams.
We hurtle through the entire holiday season, sometimes almost panting in the race. We chug up to the finish line: tree trimmed, gifts wrapped, and everybody happy sitting around the tree. (Oh wait, was that just the movie we watched? Because how often is that the real story?) And then the hollowness clangs inside of us, a dissonant, empty gonging. Because this wasn’t, after all, what we sought, craved, dreamed of for Christmas Day.
Advent means “coming,” and it is this coming that we seek. The coming of Emmanuel foretold by Isaiah (7:14) into all of our hurtling, chugging, mind-numbing discouragement. The light of Christ streaming into our tattered darkness, the gloom of depression, and the haze of broken dreams and shattered relationships.
The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace—how our backs ache for the one who will carry the government on His shoulders (see Isa. 9:6–7).
If this describes your journey, your hope, your _____ (fill in the blank) this is the right place. You are not alone. Because Advent is about all of us - all of our situations: the brokenhearted, the barren, the aged, the young, the pregnant teenager and her disillusioned fiancé, the faithful, the doubting, the people who go through the motions of faith even though faced with God’s silence. Poverty and power, wealth and worry, hope and heartbreak, oppression and opulence.
HIGH RISK ADVENT-URE
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:14).
Advent seems like a risky act on God’s part. Imagine creating a world and giving everyone in it the same opportunity to love or forsake the Creator. And then, after people thoroughly botched their invitation to enjoy God’s presence, imagine God establishing hundreds of rules about right living. The rules helped people live their daily lives so that they could enter a relationship with a holy God. Those rules made sense if the most important one was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5). Imagine, too, that some of those rules included consequences for sin and thus entailed judgment.
And then, consider that God created those laws, carved the top ten with a holy hand into stone, and then passed them on to Moses on the mountain, who passed them on to the people, who promptly and regularly broke them. Consider that God knew this breakdown would happen. The Creator absolutely knew from day one of creation that there was only one way to bring people back into relationship with Himself.
And so the adventure called Advent began at the very beginning, confounding our common sense, our logic, our rationale. National Geographic, MapQuest, our moral compasses, and our thinking caps could never divine the route for such an adventure.
Advent broke social taboos established and carefully handed down.
For instance, an engaged woman found guilty of adultery was subject to stoning (see Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:20–24). Her fiancé or parents had every right to turn her over to the establishment to see justice met, unless the man chose to marry her. Mary’s story of a divine conception could well have been construed as a teenager’s ruse to escape the consequences due to anyone committing adultery.
And another “for instance”: Old Testament interpretation considered barren women to be bearing the consequences of their own sin, with barrenness being one of the curses God said would follow people for their unfaithfulness. If children were a heritage from the Lord, and “blessed is the man whose quiver is full,” then the lack thereof was the same as the withdrawal of God’s kindness, as absence of blessing, punishment for sin (see Ex. 23:25–26; Ps. 127:3–5).
Spoiler alert: In the advent, God confounded expectations, declared holy an act that appeared to deserve the death penalty or at least societal censure. And just like at creation, God again granted people, these failure-prone creations, the right to accept or reject that coming.
The super-sized risk of the advent fits perfectly the word it grew into: adventure. Yes, the advent meant a wonder, a miracle, and accounts of marvelous things. But it also meant risk, danger, taking a chance; a perilous undertaking. Advent, anyone? For isn’t adventure the centerpiece of this coming?
God took a chance, God risked everything, and God set up a wonder, a miracle, and a host of marvelous things in the advent. In this great adventure, heaven first entered earth in the form of an angel, interrupting the regularly scheduled program of disaster, despair, and darkness, and declaring good news to a sad man nearing retirement who never gave up. Light broke into the bleakness of a woman’s barrenness, hope swallowed up unhappiness. Soon, another angel appeared to a humble girl. Angels sang, shepherds quaked, kings brought gifts, evil rulers were thwarted, and life overshadowed death. Wombs were filled, and dreams, prayers, and promises were fulfilled. And at last—at last—the great chasm between heaven and earth was bridged by the One sent from eternity: the One who came, who comes, who will come again.
This adventure produced a brilliant musical extravaganza: the pageantry of angels hovering in the night sky and a star lighting the path for others to follow; the pathos of an unmarried teenager who stepped into a role no one would want to audition for but who carried her part with a song in her heart.
This adventure, this advent, delivers people from darkness into light, sets prisoners free, lifts up the downtrodden, and binds up the wounds of the brokenhearted. This advent takes people in all their brokenness, all their disappointment and sorrow, and in a divine twist invites them into the adventure, the adventure that brings the Divine into a long-waiting world.
In advent, God comes to earth and welcomes us to heaven in a holy mystery beyond words or reason. In advent, God chases us down, coming after us to bring us back.
Magnificent God inhabiting human frailty, the God of the universe in the body of a baby. Dare we say, “Welcome”? As though we could stop this miracle, as though in some way we can inhibit that coming, whether by our flat disbelief, our rational mind, or just the tattered way we try to weave our lives together on the loom of this world.
When we find the Messiah, we find both the beginning of our greatest adventure and the fulfillment of our greatest desire.
And what do we say to this? What can we possibly say? Let the adventure begin.
* This piece is excerpted from Jane Rubietta’s critically acclaimed book, Finding The Messiah: From Darkness to Dawn - The Birth of Our Savior.