December 2nd was the first Sunday in Advent. The word ‘advent’ means ‘coming’. Advent is the four week period before Christmas when the Christian Church prepares for the coming of Jesus. It is a time for readiness and anticipation and waiting. It is a time when the Church leans in close to hear a story it knows but is desperate to hear again. Many people experience as Advent as a time of nostalgia--a time for remembering and re-enacting holiday traditions. During December we're thrilled to sing familiar Christmas carols. We bake cookies, and the aroma floods us with memories. We watch movies and TV specials that we’ve watched every year of our lives. We decorate our homes with lights and ornaments that carry special meaning.
And yet, all of our holiday sentimentality can obscure the real wonder of the incarnation. The word ‘incarnation’ literally means ‘in the flesh’. It is a theological word that describes the fact that God Himself took on human flesh when He came into the world in the form of the baby Jesus.
Even some of our much-loved (and rightfully so) Christmas carols misrepresent the meaning of the Christmas season. In Away in a Manger, when we sing ‘no crying he makes,’ we miss the true ‘fleshiness’ of God’s coming as a human. The baby Jesus did cry real, salty tears. When he nursed at Mary’s bosom, milk flowed into a real, hungry stomach.
That’s why I appreciate songs like Andrew Peterson’s Labor of Love which corrects such misunderstandings. His lyrics surprise us in stating: “It was not a silent night. There was blood on the ground. You could hear a woman cry in the alleyway that night. In the streets of David’s town.” Peterson’s portrait of that first ‘Christmas night’ isn’t sentimentalized. Its honesty reminds us of the crazy reality of God’s coming to this messed-up world.
Deeper Comfort of Christmas
As we strip away the sentimentality to appreciate the incarnation in its full-blooded-ness, we find a deeper comfort of Christmas. It assures us that today God isn’t afraid of our human-ness. He knows it. He entered it. This Advent He hears our groans. He knows our wounds; we sees the places where we bleed. He is really with us not just hovering near to us.
What all of this means is that Jesus will show up to us and for us in even the midst of our mess. He will show up when our houses are disasters of toys, clothes, and dirt. He’ll appear when the kids are screaming. He’ll come even when our minds are distracted. He’ll come when our hearts are conflicted. The great message of Advent is to ‘Take comfort’ because Jesus is hear to know our pain and overcome our pain.
Resources for Advent
This Advent, won’t you rest, slow down, and find opportunities to receive a real Jesus in the midst of your real need? Each week this month a member of the City Church staff will share a brief reflection. We’ve also curated a few Advent resources to help you prepare for Christmas. Use them individually or with your family. Build them into your holiday rhythms. But most of all celebrate Jesus: his first advent as a baby; his life, death, and resurrection; and his unshakeable promise to come again in his second advent.