December is here. That means Christmas is here. Of course, between now and Christmas, there is Advent. Advent may, at times, feel like what we do while we wait for Christmas, a sort of spiritual twiddling of the thumbs or a kind of contemplative doodling.
We need more from Advent than merely filling space or marking time. Like each of our days and all of our seasons, it is an opportunity for us to deepen our connection with God and what God is doing in the world. In that regard, this time before Christmas may be more important than our celebration of the day itself.
“Christ is born,” is the Christmas acclamation. What difference does it make in my life, that Christ has been born is an Advent question. What impact does the birth of Christ have on my life, my community, in my world? Does that birth move my thoughts, actions, hopes and dreams closer to God’s vision for God’s creation?
Arriving at Christmas without asking some questions and examining our motivation leaves us open to sentimentalizing or worse, belittling Christmas. If we make no attempt or see no need to reconnect our lives to God’s vision for them, it is easy for us to conclude that Christmas is just about God loving us.
On the 4th Sunday of Advent, worshipers in many churches may hear Micah 5:1-5. Christians have long read this passage in anticipation of Christmas because we hear in its mention of Bethlehem and a woman giving birth, a reference to the birth of Christ. To get at the heart of what God wants for and from Christmas, we need to start reading a chapter earlier.
Micah 4:34 speaks of God’s purpose for Christmas and vision for God’s creation as well as any two verses of scripture. It reads “… they shall bent their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit under their own vines and under their own Fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.’
Jesus echoes the heart of Micah’s words when he speaks about the Kingdom of God. He is thinking of that time and place when God gets what God wants. He teaches his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. With that prayer, he is teaching his disciples and us to live for, work for and pray for a life on earth where we all have a place to call home, enough to eat and no reason to be afraid
Through the centuries, many Christians have resigned such visions to the afterlife, thinking such a vision of life together impossible this side of heaven. Such a view leaves Christmas present sandwiched between a long ago birth and the future return of Christ. Understanding Christmas in this way allows us to celebrate a historical event and anticipate a future one without engaging the radical implications of Christ’s birth in our present day. It may leave us wondering if a child has been born at all.
Anyone who has children knows that the birth of a child changes everything. Nothing is ever the same after she is born. Yet, whether by our acquiescence, apathy or accommodation, we abide a system that allows a few to have more than they can use while too many do not have what they need, we are acting as if Christ has not been born. We surrender to a view of the world where there are too few fig trees and not enough vines for us all. That is neither the world God created nor the Christmas God wants for any of us.
Advent, at least in part, is a time to discover what it will look like for us to live together in a world where Christ has been born.