It is Advent in America, at least for those of us who recognize it. For the rest, it’s Christmastime. For weeks now merry music has been played in the malls and shopping mega-plexes in the metropolitan area where I live, and sparkling lights and shimmering decorations hang from trees and rooftops.
I am not much in the mood for Christmas this year, though I hope to be when the time for Christmas finally arrives. My mood is far more Advent-y that Christmas-y right now.
Actually, each year over the course of the past several, I have found myself less and less in the mood for Christmas before the day actually arrives. I find it difficult to make plans or decorate or even buy gifts. Christmas has become a real turn-off for me; but only (at least I hope) when it insists on crashing my Advent.
Call me a liturgical snob if you wish, but Advent is designed to be a time of waiting, of expectation, of preparation for the coming of Christ. It is a time when we are reminded that God loves the lonely, the poor, the outcast, the brokenhearted. It is a time when we sit in the dark waiting for Light to break in.
Or that’s the idea, anyway. We who are among the world’s wealthiest citizens perhaps would rather not be reminded of such things. We don’t have to wait; we are living the good life now, and we want to celebrate it. Sure, we’ll toss a toy to a poor kid and throw a few extra bucks in the offering plate to buy ham for the food pantry because, by golly, that’s what the good life is all about – sharing your blessings with the less fortunate. Right?
Our neighbor has a crèche in his front yard. Actually, I’m not sure it is worthy of being called a crèche, or a manger scene, or any of the words we would normally use to describe the nativity – baby Jesus in the manger, guarded by his two adoring parents. First, it is rather small. Tiny in comparison even to the monkey grass that grows behind it. Second, it sits all alone in the yard, with no other decorations, the bulbs that once lighted it apparently no longer glow.
I don’t even know why I noticed it, so unnoticeable as it is, a few houses down the street, but when I saw it my first instinct was to laugh. Okay… jeer. I smirked at its size, at its age, at its lily-white faces. The houses all around that one are decked out with icicle lights and blow up Santas and massive “Feliz Navidad”s. Who would embarrass themselves with such so-called “yard art” when it so obviously can’t compete with its surroundings?
But as I stood there looking, I became acutely aware of the presence of God. “Isn’t this the spirit of Christmas you’ve been looking for?” The question reverberated in my soul as I studied the little family, so small, so alone. And it struck me again that this is exactly how God came down – tiny, unnoticeable, into a world that claimed to be waiting for him yet couldn’t even be bothered to offer him a place to sleep.
I weep now for the small, unnoticed people among us; for the poor, for the lost, for the unwanted. And I weep for us because we do not see them; because we can’t be bothered by such things. And I yearn for Christmas. I yearn for Light to break into the darkness and save us all. Come, Lord Jesus.