People are rarely neutral about Christmas. Some of us live at the North Pole of anticipation and excitement. Others of us live in a South Pole of dread and bah-humbug.
Usually, I am at the North Pole. But there have been a few Advent seasons during which I have found myself at the South Pole, feeling strangely empty and somehow exhausted by all the hoopla. These days, if that ever happens, I am fortunate to have excited children in my house to drag me back into the festivities. However I am aware that a season that is all about family can be a desperately lonely time for people who find themselves living in isolation, grieving the loss of a loved one, or trying to cope with family stress. And for those of us who follow the church calendar, if Advent happens to come at a time when we are in a spiritually barren place, the call to open our hearts can intensify our experience of doubt or alienation. Undoubtedly, some people are just not “feeling it” this year, due to temperament or circumstance or who knows what. Perhaps the season finds you at a South Pole of sadness. If that’s the case, it’s important to remember that Advent is a season all about longing and emptiness and waiting. It is a season set aside to help us realise that we need deliverance from our current condition. And this is the difference between what people these days call Christmas and the actual season of Advent. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts. And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realise what we should have known all along. Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow. And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone.
Each Advent, we wait with the prophets and with all of creation for the birth of the promised Saviour. The prophets go silent for 400 years and then suddenly, out of nowhere, the Almighty God stretches forth His hand to a small town and calls a seemingly insignificant young girl and she says “Yes”. The God of the universe humbles himself and makes himself flesh. He takes the form of a helpless babe. It is a great mystery. It is God with us, Emmanuel. This event is so spectacular, so exceptional, and so important that time itself starts here. The first day of the Church year is the first Sunday of Advent. It seems a little weird, particularly in our culture, to celebrate waiting. Especially this time of year. We’re rushing around, busy with parties and presents and plans. It seems like there’s hardly time to wait. But celebrating the wait is precisely what Advent is all about. Jesus is the one who will make “heaven and nature sing”. He is the King that will come to “rule the world with truth and grace”. He is the one that will make all things new. He is the one we're waiting for, and that's why we sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel.