It’s Advent and it’s ironic that, while we await the coming of Jesus, it’s so much more difficult than at other times in the year to see God in the faces of others. It’s so difficult when we lose our patience in crowded stores, chaotic streets, too much traffic, extra things to get done. Yes, the whole “peace on earth and good will” season can be a bit conflicting.
Then factor in the horrific situations in the world. Hard to believe the war in Ukraine seems to have taken a back seat to the Israel/Gaza war. We have continued gun violence here in our country, our ever-present toxic political climate, and so much more, and all on top of our personal lives and struggles. It’s a lot. And it seems that while we struggle to absorb a thing that has happened, something else even more horrific occurs. It piles on. Our capacity for empathy and compassion is stretched beyond the limit.
I read an article recently by Nadia Bolz-Weber, explaining that we, our psyches, were not built to know about things happening outside our village. We’re simply not wired for processing and empathizing with the problems of an entire world outside of our own personal worlds.
Perhaps humanity will evolve into a species that can handle all this trauma at once, but right now, we’re feeling it in ways we might not even realize. And the burnout from the disasters of the wider world make it even harder to have compassion on a local level. And that makes it easier to switch our compassion off, as easy as switching from the news to Netflix or even (yikes!) a Hallmark Christmas movie.
But here we are, it’s Advent, and Christmas is rushing towards us, and it can seem like an absolute struggle to find the joy, to feel the peace, see the light.
When I was a child, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade ended with the appearance of Santa to kick off the shop…. I mean Christmas season, December 25th seemed a very long way off. And back then (the good old days) we didn’t see decorations outside or inside our homes until around second week of December. Later, as an adult, I remember office building lobbies were magically decorated to our delight when we returned to work after Thanksgiving weekend. We’ve all noticed how the trend now has been to start all this even earlier and much of this is about economics – getting the shopping season started as early as possible.
However, I think there’s another trend going on here. Based on what I’ve seen and folks I’ve spoken with, I believe people are simply wanting to decorate their homes earlier.
Last Sunday, we heard from Fr. Nate in his sermon and in the “Sermon Talkback” discussion at Coffee Hour, that according to our tradition, we should not be doing any Christmas right now, but allowing ourselves to just experience Advent. Then Christmas, the twelve days of it, begins on December 25th. And while I love the feel of that tradition, I recognize it’s never going back to that, and even Fr. Nate confessed he was planning on putting his own tree up that afternoon! (full disclosure, mine’s already up too, all magnificent two feet of it!).
So, we know why the retail industry wants Christmas to start as early as possible, but why are individuals opting for this too? Here’s what I think. This world is just too much to bear for much of the year. People want joy; people want peace. And if the world won’t offer that, well, let’s just deck those halls and light up our space and do whatever we need to do to feel better.
Advent is meant to be a time of darkness, while we await the Light. But we are so done, we can’t wait for the light, we need it now. And if the world can’t offer it to us in the way we need it, well, we’ll just go ahead and string it up and plug it in. This as a form of “self-care”. We don’t completely block out the wretchedness of the world around us, we can’t, but we do what we can to carry on.
After my husband died many years ago, I would come home from work to a dark apartment. That was new as he would typically be home earlier than me. I found this very difficult and then discovered timers. I connected a lamp in each room to a timer and then always came home to welcoming light. It helped so much and I continue this even now, a dozen years later. Bottom line is, if you find yourself in darkness, seek the light, embrace it, and make it happen.
We will gather together this season in our beautiful church, with stirring music and beautiful liturgy…in holiness…to feed us and strengthen us for the world outside. To help us to see the face of God in one another – lit by the light of our Savior. I hope to see many of you as we gather during this Advent and Christmas season at many wonderful services and events.
The Advent wreath has four candles. They signify, in this order, hope, faith, joy and peace. Hope is a really good place to start. Faith springs from hope and sustains us. Joy comes when we allow it, when we go for the light. And all that leads to peace in our hearts. I wish you all that and lots of light to guide the way!