Some New Words for Advent

by Ed Horstmann

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Hope, peace, love and joy: beautiful words! During the weeks before Christmas, churches often explore these four voices of Advent, and light candles to turn us toward the brightness of what they can mean for a full and meaningful life.

But this year I wondered what it would mean to let go of the familiar traditions and focus attention on some different words for Advent. Why not light candles for these words: interruption, intrusion, confusion, and anger?  I know this does not sound like an activity that syncs well with the run-up to Christmas but here’s my logic.

Prior to the birth of Jesus, the key characters in the unfolding drama of his life experienced precious little hope, peace, love, or joy. Mary was startled by the presence of an angel who announced not just the coming of a savior, but the unsettling news that she was to be his mother: not much peace there! When Joseph was told the disturbing news that he was to be the father of this child, he sought to distance himself from Mary as quickly as possible: not much love there! When King Herod was told by visiting astrologers that they had seen the sign of a star that signaled the rising of a different kind of king, he was full of jealous rage: not much joy there!

For these characters in the first Christmas pageant, the birth of Jesus came as an unwanted interruption that inspired fear, brought confusion, and stimulated envy. What makes this story meaningful and foundational to our spiritual wellness is that Mary and Joseph and the Magi allowed their lives to align with the intrusive power. Mary loved the child even while questions of his origins remained unanswered. Joseph cared for the holy family and risked his life to keep them safe. Those Magi-astrologers did not agree to be Herod’s spies but honored the child, kept his whereabouts safe, and then sneaked home by a secret way.

Thank God that those who were first entrusted with the infant baby came to welcome him, make a home for him, and nurture a life with him. Though over two thousand years separate us from the event of that child’s birth, he can certainly enter our lives and dwell in our hearts as he did then. “Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.”

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