I used to joke that if you ever want to know what loneliness feels like, try being a Jew at Christmas.
But now there’s a new version of the joke that’s a lot less funny: if you want to know what loneliness feels like, try being in the midst of a pandemic during the holiday season. Only we don’t have to imagine it, because that is the lived reality of the whole world.
Hope in the form of a vaccine is coming, but we don’t know when. A new presidential administration will soon be installed, but we don’t know what it will look like. So much uncertainty hangs in the air as the whole of humanity experiences a collective trauma, both physical and emotional.
Believe it or not, Advent speaks to all of this.
More than just an ancient story
There wasn’t a plague happening in first-century Israel, but there was violence. There was no dispute over an election for a new president, but there was corrupt leadership. The emotions felt then reverberate now: Fear. Longing. Lament. Hunger for change. Lack of hope permeated daily life, where survival and success depended on health and wealth, not unlike survival in this century.
But. Spoiler alert for the citizens of Bethlehem: what we know today that they did not is that hope wins. The baby in the manger is the fulfillment of everything we’ve ever hoped for. That birth, which was somewhat traumatic under absolutely un-ideal circumstances, is just the beginning of the story.
Christ refused cheap comfort
I don’t know why all of this is allowed to happen. But as my freelance work dwindles and I worry about the number in my checking account, I remember the God who chose to be poor.
When I grow frustrated from the endless debate about masks and social distancing rules, I remember that Jesus gave up his divine privileges to walk alongside us.
When I read about the lasting effects of Trumpism on the American Church, I remember how Jesus chose powerlessness.
This is the message of Advent. Everything we think we know about glory, power, and success gets flipped. Everything we grasp to white-knuckle through each day can’t hold a candle to the power of the living God.
“The church who celebrates Advent refuses cheap comfort.” – Fleming Rutledge