Hallmark or Advent?
Over the next four weeks there will be ten Hallmark Channel Holiday movies playing on television. Someone I love, really loves these movies, and as much as I would rather not admit it, I kind of enjoy them myself. There is nothing like mindless, holiday themed entertainment to take your mind off of the crazy stuff of everyday life. There are a few essentials needed for any good Hallmark Christmas movie. For instance, there must be: “A 90’s actress you almost forgot about,” “A good looking actor you probably do not know,” “A town with a dumb name,” “A failing family business,” “a dead spouse,” “a supernatural element that changes everything,” “a family trauma,” and finally, “two unlikely people, who fall in love.” These television movies always come to a close with a fairytale ending where hope, peace, joy, and love abounds. Nonetheless, the storylines of these ten, made for hot chocolate and cookies movies, we will never once hear the real story of the “reason for the season.” Somehow if we rely merely on the way the world counts down to Christmas, we will have missed the story of the Incarnation of God in Christ.
Let me explain, for most of us, right after Thanksgiving, we all want to immediately flash forward three weeks ahead, go straight to that manger scene where baby, mother, step dad, shepherds, angels, and stars bring us hope of peace on earth and good will to all the world. We are anxious for Christ to come, and we forget that we are not quite there yet. In many of our homes, the tree is already trimmed, the lights are on the outside of the house, we have Pandora or XM Radio in our cars tuned to the “holiday channels,” and parties, soirees, and dinners are being planned.
But we are not there quite yet. There is more to come before the babe arrives, and before the :King Returns.” That is where Advent comes in. The church calendar includes a season of hiatus when our culture diminishes the importance of the incarnation narrative, which we will commemorate in three weeks; we have the season of Advent to remind us for whom it is, and why it is that we can truly live in hope, peace, joy, and love.
Last week at the “Feast of Christ the King,” we ended the church year exploring the motif of Christ’s return as ‘King of Kings’ in troubling times. We begin the Church year with the First Sunday of Advent, once again hearing Jesus’ words about the world filled with future trouble, foreboding, and fear. However, these dire warnings are not the end of the story, and there is more to come.
Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” We hear Jesus’ words today in the midst of our early Christmas planning, we try to forget that we too are living in troubling times.
I “Googled” foreboding headlines the other day and came up with the following:
“Thousands Flee As Guatemalan Volcano Erupts Again;” “Tons Of Dead Fish Washing Ashore On Florida Beaches;” “Asteroid Makes Surprise Flyby of Earth;” “Evacuation orders, flash flood watches for areas burned by California wildfires;”“Ukraine urges NATO to deploy ships amid Russia standoff;” and“North Korea ‘tests new high-tech weapon.” Jesus was right, we are living in troubled times, and all around us seems to be falling apart, the world seems on the edge of some cataclysmic occurrence.
So, when the news is so bad, it is easy for us to want to put it all out of our minds, and “party hearty” before the actual celebration of Christmas. Advent is the season for us to reflect on what is going on around us, to recognize the reality of this time we live in now, and to wait in expectant and anticipatory hope for the coming of Christ. While all the world is celebrating a season, which has in many ways lost its meaning, the church stands in the midst of all it, and reminds the world that we are waiting not only for the babe in the manger to arrive, but we are awaiting the return of the King, who will bring hope, peace, joy, and love in the midst of foreboding headlines and fear. We just cannot skip over Luke 21 and jump straight to the manger, because even though ‘our “Christian’ world (has) 20 centuries behind it, is far from redeemed.” (1)
Hope and Promises
Jesus promises, “They will see the “Son of Man” coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” These are Jesus’ “hang in there” encouragement words. When all seems lost, when headlines seem ominous, when the fish are dying, wars are looming, and the economy is taking a dive, Jesus says simply, “Hang in there, I am on my way.” As theologian Gracia Grindal writes, Jesus, “wants us to be able to see things for what they are and not be fooled by the powers of this world. He wants us to be able to take the long view, so that we can see the arrival of a world yet to come.”(2) Jesus said, “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Jesus tells us to “Hang in there, I’m on the way”
This promise is not mere sentimentality, but words on which, we can hang our hope, peace, joy, and love. James Kay writes, “When we least expect it, and when there is no evidence for it, God’s power comes into this godless world in ways the world itself could never predict or foresee.”
Even in the midst of gloomy headlines, we get little glimpses of God’s promises fulfilled, right here and right now. You have to really dig into the newspaper to find them, but there is some good news out there. Hopeful news is out there like: “Businessman Hands Out $1,000 Checks to Every Student and Staffer of Wildfire-Affected California School,” “In Largest Ever Donation to US College, $1.8 Billion is Donated for Low-Income Students,” “Community of Tiny Homes Breaks Cycle of Addiction and Homelessness for Single Moms,” “Scientists Growing Rice With Seawater Could Feed ‘Entire Arab World’,” and “North andSouth Korea Have Begun Clearing the Mines in the DMZ.”
These holiday headlines are not mere Hallmark themed stories of hope, peace, joy, and love. These are stories of God’s promises becoming a present reality now, in a world filled with the frightening signs of expectant destruction. You see, even in the midst of fear and foreboding, we can see little hints of the coming of the Son of Man bringing to the world its redemption, that is if we can stop long enough to actually look for it.
Preparation for the Coming of Christ
So, how then Eric, can I spend my time in preparation this Advent, anticipating the “babe in the manger” and the “King of Kings?” Simply put, live in anticipation and prayer. John Morris in a Christian Century article wrote, “As we wait and prepare for those days, we are to imagine this new age. We are invited to think with anticipation, pray with confidence, and work with commitment for that future.” (4) Over the next four weeks, do not be too quick to hang the holly and tensile, trim the tree, and indulge in the parties and celebrations. Do not be too ready to listen to the golden oldie Christmas music, or change your favorite Starbucks indulgence into an Egg Nog latte. Just take some time each day for prayer, and to wait with anticipation for Christ to come, looking for the signs of it all around you, that is if you are looking for it.
Turn off the Hallmark blissful happy clappy shows, and search the headlines, search your hearts, and search in your own neighborhood for signs, glimpses, and little glints of Christ’s returning hope. Look beyond the menacing and dreadful stories permeating our phones and televisions, and look for the hope, peace, joy, and love that is coming amongst us now and in the age to come.
This Advent my sisters and brothers, be on guard, be alert at all times, avoid heavy hearts burdened with the worries of life. Do not turn to self-medicating television and other stimulations as an alternative for quiet, reflective, and dedicated time with God. Live in expectation hop of Christ’s return and most of all pray for strength, pray for courage, and pray for peace, joy, and love. Live in expectation and anticipation of God’s promises, for as Our Lord says, even in these great times of trouble, “Hang in there, I am on my way.”
(1) Kay, James F. “Redemption Draws Near.” The Christian Century, vol. 114, no. 32, Nov. 1997, p. 1033
(2) Adams, Joanna. “Light the Candles.” The Christian Century, vol. 123, no. 24, Nov. 2006, p. 18.
(3) Grindal, Gracia. “Promises, Promises.” Word & World, vol. 8, no. 4, Fall 1988, pp. 389–394.
(4) Morris, John C. “Anticipation.” The Christian Century, vol. 117, no. 33, Nov. 2000, p. 1214.