Stress, guilt, frustration, worry, anger, even depression: as much as this time of year is meant to be overwhelmed with joy to the world and wondrous beauty bright, this season has a way of bringing out the worst in us human beings. After all, there is far too much to be done on top of the already enough-to-do schedule. Greeting cards have to be made with extra craftiness, decorations put up just right, checking in on family and friends we may not otherwise and do so with the most tender care, and we’re just, evidently, supposed to make an extra effort to be plain nice to people, including to complete strangers, because that’s part of what this time of year is supposed to be about, but it only adds on to the usual holiday stress and the frustration.
And then the church isn’t helping matters either. We’re telling you that it’s not even that season yet. We’re pretending that you can somehow control yourselves from preparing for that C-word holiday in a few weeks’ time. We’re acting as if it doesn’t even exist. And forget the fact that we’re caving in (just a little) with the decorations and the songs. But the church will not back down from reminding not only the culture, but the world as a whole, that something even greater than that C-word holiday is coming. The church will not let us forget Advent, anticipating the time when our dear Savior’s birth into the world will utterly fail in comparison to what will happen soon enough.
Now granted, what happened in Bethlehem long ago was unbelievably beautiful. God brought overwhelming hope to the world in a way that was never done before. God was brought to life in a way humanity never could prepare itself for, no matter how many centuries of prophecies came along before. And of course over time we have developed traditions that make this time of year all the more special to say the least: not so much with the cards and the decorations, but the time spent with family and the sentimental moments of memories from Christmases past. There’s a reason why musicians can connect with their listening audiences, singing with the utmost conviction, “it is the most wonderful time of the year.”
After all, as we heard from our psalm this morning, “the dawn from on high” broke upon the world through that precious child. The light of God’s mercy and triumph had arrived on the scene of darkness, and the darkness would never overcome it again. No earthly ruler, no empire, no established religious leaders: no matter how hard they tried, could not take away the Savior from the world. That is most certainly worth celebrating to the point of making this “the most wonderful time of the year,” with such Great News of a dawn of new life breaking upon us.
Except, this season still finds a way to bring out the worst in us humans, whether we intend it to or not. The C-word time of year has a way of increasing that stress level and shortening our fuses of frustration; not to mention as the night creeps in earlier and earlier with each passing day, it leads many to sadness and even depression, reminiscing only of memories past that can never be relived again. It isn’t “the most wonderful time of year,” for far too many of our sisters and brothers in Christ.
And so the church will never back down from making us wait for that C-word holiday, because the divine reality is something even greater is yet to come. Advent: a reminder that God is far from finished. Yes, what happened in Bethlehem was breathtakingly beautiful. However, truly, God tells us, what happens next will be beyond anything you can ever imagine. There will come a time when there will be no more frustration over past mistakes, no more anger over family drama, no more guilt, no more shame, no more sadness, no more death, so only to cling to the memories. All will be restored. All will be made well. What happened in Bethlehem was only a glimpse of what is yet in store for this still far too much dark-infested world.
Nevertheless, as that darkness of night appears into our day sooner and sooner, it also means that the light comes all the quicker the next day. No matter what, no matter how awful we feel, no matter how much we regret from the day before, the sun still finds a way to break through: not just for another day to get all the cards mailed out and buy the gifts, but to realize that, evidently, God is far from finished with the world and with us. And God is far from finished in the work of Jesus Christ. The dawn from on high most certainly broke upon the world that night in Bethlehem, but God says it will come back again. The dawn of everlasting life will break upon the whole world, and the everlasting light will finally take away all the darkness forever. And absolutely nothing can take that away from all of us, from God firmly believing we are more than worth coming back for, and this time it will be for rest of eternity. And for that that is still to come, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Guest pastors will lead us in worship during St. John's pastoral vacancy
Office: Mon - Thu: 9 a.m. - Noon