How do you say “glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace … ” when:
• 26 people were shot and killed while they worshiped.
• 58 people were shot and killed while they attended a concert.
• 62 people died when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.
• 61 people died in the U.S. when Hurricane Irma hit the Keys.
• 82 people died in the U.S. when Hurricane Harvey made landfall.
• 30 years of sexual harassment allegations against a producer awaken a nation to the persistent presence, problem and normalization of the experience for women.
• The death of one woman awakens a nation to the persistent presence, problem and normalization of the experience and history of racism.
Is Christmas escapism and denial? A little joy in the almost numbing sea of conflict, suffering and broken discourse?
I hope not, and maybe we aren’t there yet, but for many the sense of loss is. But, so I hope, is a sense of anticipation.
Whether assessing the year or looking ahead, often fulfillment and longing stand in tension, which for me is the framework for Advent — the time before Christmas in the Christian calendar. Here is where we experience and practice waiting.
The year grows darker, and we wait with eyes cast toward the light.
We acknowledge a longing for peace, salvation, even justice to be fulfilled, and many wait for the revelation of something more than what is seen.
How long, O Lord, the psalmist writes. Will you forget me? Will my sorrow end? Will enemies triumph over me: anxiety, fear, apathy, self-medication, over indulgence, depression, rage and others.
The prophet answers, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined.”
Maybe your light isn’t found in a Christmas Eve service.
Maybe your light doesn’t have a human face in a manger.
Maybe we can still look for, point to and hold up the light together.
We can tell a better story.
We can tell a story with broad shoulders and a resilient heart.
One particular story for Christians — the incarnation, the nativity — bears hope for the world partly because the holy is in the ordinary. Because the divine works amongst us, and we are in this together, and not abandoned or alone.
Because we are part of the better story.
Take heart, neighbor, though your tree be fake. Light a candle, a menorah or your flickering battery powered ornament from the local discount bin.
Resist the temptation to crank the seasonal music up to drown out your neighbors’ cries. Instead, sing, not without humor, in the courage and presence of the audacity of hope, and a calling to keep at it, to walk, to not give up — to believe. Do we dare believe we are part of making a difference, of something better?
So, tell a better story, and I pray, see the blessed and miraculous as close as your own breath — in the ordinary.
My story this season? It’s perhaps naïve, but it is attached to the promise, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The holy delight of God entering into our world, head first.