Advent: A Long December and a December to Remember

If you were to visit Bethlehem this year this December, it would would appear a bit less, shall we say, festive than last December. The Patriarchs and heads of church got together and all agreed to cancel all  public festivities and the large-scale display of brightly lit and expensive decorations.  Bethlehem wouldn’t be as outwardly ostentatious and celebratory this year, in a sense of solidarity with what has been happening to people in their country. Further explanation....

"But these are not normal times. there has been an atmosphere of sadness and pain. Thousands of innocent civilians, including women and children, have died or suffered serious injuries, "Many more grieve over the loss of their homes, their loved ones, or the uncertain fate of those dear to them. Throughout the region, even more have lost their work and are suffering from serious economic challenges.

So even on the first day of December, one could probably already feel the lament of the Counting Crows song, “Its a long December for us, but will this year will be better than the last?”  You can have opinions on whether taking down decorations and cancelling outdoor frivolity and merrymaking was the correct route to take. However there really is a historical practice that includes this thought pattern (some don't even put up decorations until Christmas Day!). Many churches have a tradition called Advent: a period of waiting occurring during the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas which gives a sacred (set apart and protected) time for personal and communally lamentation. However it is a  lamentation not devoid of all  illumination (candlelight). It is a time to remember those caught in the crossfire in Bethlehem, but also in Bradenton. A time to consider those caught in the crossfire of cancer, divorce, doubts, rumors, opposition from family, bleeding finances, dying friends or dying dreams. We need space to be honest and say, “Lord we’re ready, so what’s taking so long?” We don’t see the way forward and we don’t have “reason to believe that this year will be better than the last” because this year wasn’t. We need space space and a place where we can look at the person next to us and say, “I’m hurting with you and for you, and I’m tired.”

A long December gives us an opportunity to long for Jesus to return. The church already has a version of a “Long December,” it’s called  “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” There are actually 7 verses. I think we need all of them. Or at least to actually mean some of the lyrics we sing.

 Advent combines “A Long December” with another slogan that I’m going to hijack: "A December to Remember." Not in any sort of consumeristic way in the sense of buying a luxury automobile without first speaking to your spouse. A December to Remember that the world will not always be like it is. The very reason we know what it could be, and will is b/c of what Jesus has already done and begun to do.

For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last. - Frederich Buechner

As I was listening to the children sing at their Christian school concert, I already anticipated a long and busy December. But by the end of the performance, I had chosen, at least for a few minutes, which story would I submit to, not simply subscribe to, like or follow. Would I long, and at the same time celebrate what had already been done and what will be? Could it be both "A long December" and "A December to Remember" at the same time?  I leave you with this poem from Madeline L’Engle.

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace
He came when the Heavens were unsteady
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
He came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

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