Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the 4 weeks before Christmas that, in its modern form, is intended for followers of Christ to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth on December 25th.
Originally the time of Advent was characteristically more like Lent, with periods of fasting a part of it. In light of our extravagant Christmas parties, we can be thankful that it more celebratory and filled with anticipation than with fasting (although our clothes might fit better after the holidays!).
In Matthew 24:37, Jesus laments for the people of Jerusalem – “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
It was into this context that had been filled with violence toward God’s messengers that another Messenger was sent, the one who not only spoke the words of God, but is the Word of God. God in the flesh, desiring to gather the people to Himself in love, to shelter them from the habits of violence that they had grown accustomed to, and in some cases, been a party to. As the end of Christ lament says, they were unwilling.
We’ve all watched someone we love turn away from that which would give them life, and it no doubt broke our heart. Perhaps we ourselves have chosen darkness over the light of Christ’s shelter, because it seemed too good to be true, and too hard to shed the darkness of our sin. But Jesus is still there, longing to gather his children to Himself, to be refuge, and comfort, and safety, and rest.
The holidays never come at a convenient time. Often they are just tacked on to an already busy and stressful life. Often they have a way of exacerbating tenuous relationships and circumstances. The mode of operation in Advent can sometimes be to just get through. To do as little as possible to make it meaningful for those who are counting on us, but wanting it to be all over.
But maybe this is the year that Christ is beckoning you into the Christmas season with his arms of love, and you are compelled to leave the darkness because it is just that – darkness. Maybe this is the year that you encounter Christ in new ways, through reading His word, through breathing in the evergreens, through spending time with those who love you unconditionally. Trust that if you turn towards Him, releasing your grip on control of your life, he will meet you there and gather you to Himself. Though the situation around you may not change, His love is sure.
This Advent season, what do you hope for? What do you need to turn from so that you can turn to Christ?