Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry First Day of Christmas!

Merry Christmas! 
It's the first day of the 12 days of Christmas, and I've resolved to celebrate each and every one of those 12 days. Ok, so some might accuse me of lazy parenting. Not all of the gifts have arrived. Not all of the gifts have been made. A few gifts haven't even been shipped. But hey, we have 12 days to get it all in! And the girls are only opening 1 gift per day, so they won't miss the missing gifts for at least a week. 

But as I mentioned in my last post (hey, 2 posts in 2 days?!?!? What's going on?!?!), I'm appreciating the church calendar more and more, and think it's silly to limit Christmas to one day when it's allotted 12. Too much buildup and letdown. We're attempting a long-lasting joyful simmer instead of a Christmas morning explosion. 

Despite my previously-mentioned Pentatonix obsession, I won't fill each day of Christmas with a new Pentatonix song. But I will highlight one more Christmas song (that they happen to sing) that I've always loved, and to me demonstrates the hopeful joy of Christmas and the resolution to Advent's watchful anticipation. O Holy Night has always had the power to make me cry. I never could explain it before, other than it was just a really beautiful and touching song. But recently I realized how it so perfectly explains the joy and relief of Christ's coming at Christmas. 

O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and e'er pining
'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees O hear the angels voices.
O night divine O night when Christ was born
O night divine, O night, O night divine.

What was it like to be the shepherds that received the good news first from a multitude of angels? What was it like to be Anna or Simeon meeting the week-old Christ child for the first time at the temple? What was it like to be the Wise Men seeing the star, realizing that the long-anticipated sign had finally arrived? What does the thrill of hope feel like?

I suppose we could ask Syrian refugees finding out that they're being welcomed into a safe community in which to raise their children. I suppose we could ask a military family what it's like to hear that their loved one will be shipping home from a war zone tomorrow. I bet a wrongly-imprisoned inmate who just got their sentence overturned would understand. And certainly prospective parents who get the news that, after years of tense waiting, a baby was born yesterday, theirs to meet tomorrow and adopt. 

Long pining, weary from hoping and waiting. The good news brings a new and glorious morn. The waiting is over. Certainly their hearts are overwhelmed. They can fall to their knees, they can jump for joy. That which they feared is gone. Their worries are gone. The news changes everything. That is the news of Christ's birth. It changes everything. The waiting for a Savior is over. He has finally arrived. Advent is over. Christmas can begin.

I pray that Christmas is a joyful season for you all. All 12 days of it!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Last Day of Advent

Today is the last day of Advent. We celebrate it with Christmas pageants and candlelight services. Most people know of today as Christmas Eve. The day before Christmas. So the last day of Advent.

What is Advent? Well, Advent is to Christmas as Lent is to Easter. (Anyone remember their old SAT analogies?) In other words, it's a time of preparation. It's a time when we focus on how sinful and depraved we are, and how desperately we need salvation. 

The world has made this easy lately. What do you see in the news? People kill each other because they are the wrong religion. People kill each other because they are the wrong skin color or nationality. Or because they just had a really bad day. People kill each other because they want to be famous. People kill children because they're too full of drugs to be responsible adults. People kill children before they're born because they happen to be inconvenient. 

Or just look inside yourself to find more sin. Your goals are more important than how you treat other people. Your comfort is more important than sharing with others who are in desperate need. Your need to be right is more important than others' feelings. If someone doesn't agree with you, they're obviously wrong and not worth listening to.

We're selfish. We're lazy. We're slow to truly empathize with and listen to others. We sin. Consistently. On a small and grand scale. By what we do, and by what we don't prevent. The world is a sick, sick place. And we all share the blame in making it sicker.

Who will fix it? Sorry, not Bernie. Not Trump. Nor Clinton. Nor Cruz. No politician can turn the world around. No single human can fix it. No group of humans, no matter how large or well-funded, can fix the world. Sin is insidious, and creeps its way into the core of every person, no matter how well-intentioned or righteous-seeming that person might be. We can wipe out murderous caliphates, but sin will still remain.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you might have picked up on the fact that I have a bit of an obsession with the vocal group Pentatonix. This might be because they happen to sing some of my favorite Christmas music. They also sing one of my favorite Advent songs, O Come O Come Emmanuel. They only sing two verses of a longer hymn, but those two verses have settled into this Advent perfectly:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Who is Israel? Us. God's people. God's people waiting for peace, waiting for deliverance from the evil depravity of our life on earth. There is much to mourn. It's all over network and cable news. Death. Destruction. Hatred. Sin. Selfishness. We need to be ransomed from our captivity here, our exile in this sinful world. 

The second verse is the verse that the children of our congregation helped sing a few Sundays ago in the worship service. We practiced it at home to help them sing it more confidently. I explained that the convoluted language was actually talking about God giving Moses the 10 Commandments, the Law that would help us follow God's will for us. They've been learning the 10 Commandments at home and in Sunday School, so I thought it was actually a good verse for them to sing. 

I did a horrible job of following my Advent prep plan this year. We never did manage to read one section of the Christmas story each night of Advent. So the other night, I read a big chunk while they munched on Christmas cookies. I read the beginning of the Christmas story in the book of Matthew. Now if you're not up on your comparative Gospel Christmas stories, I'll tell you that Matthew starts with the genealogy of Jesus. It starts at Abraham and the ancient Hebrews, and works its way through kings David and Solomon until it finally gets to Jesus. It's a long journey, a heck of a mouthful to read, and full of names that I'm pretty sure won't make it onto your baby-naming list. Unless you want a son named Azor, Zadok, or Jeconiah... Now the book of Luke does a better job of including the narrative we're used to seeing in Christmas pageants. But Matthew highlights the theme of Advent. God's people waited for Jesus' birth for a long, long time. They wandered in the desert. They were taken captive as slaves. They waited, suffering, hopeful, for many generations. Many many generations. 

And so now we wait. For many many generations, we wait for our Savior to return, to ransom us from our captivity in this cruel depraved world. To dwell on the waiting, the need for deliverance, that is Advent. To realize the sin we carry with us wherever we go, to realize how we can't completely rid ourselves of it, that is Advent. 

I'm gaining a greater appreciation as I get older for the cyclical liturgical seasons of the church year. Advent is a necessary precedent for the hopeful joy of Christmas, just as Lent is a necessary precedent for the exuberant joy of Easter. You can't appreciate a Savior unless you realize what you need to be saved from. 

Thank you media for painting the world in horrific colors. Ok, maybe not. No one should revel in the violence of the world as much as our news outlets do. But it does a good job of helping us remember what we need to be delivered from. And how badly we need our long-promised and long-awaited Savior. 

Blessed last day of Advent. I'm certainly looking forward to Christmas! We've been waiting for a long time!