Now and then I’ve taken a shot at Hallmark Channel holiday offerings. Smothered in saccharine and populated with beautiful people, the plots feature vaguely familiar life problems solved in less than two hours through holiday magic as two people fall in love discovering the true meaning of Christmas and live happily ever after. Scenes are filled with singing children, festive village squares or city streets, and the occasional magical angel or secret Santa.
It doesn’t keep me from watching at least a part of one or two each year. Adult feel good fairy tales are like Christmas candy. A little tastes OK.
Advent approaches Christmas in a different way. It’s honest about the darkness and danger that sometimes infects our lives in truly threatening ways. There is nothing sweet about it. The world of Advent is populated by real people doing the best they can in real lives. The worst that can happen is not only near, it sometimes comes crashing down. It is in the midst of gritty reality that God’s faithful promise is made visible as the true source of hope, restoration and renewal. There’s no magic. It’s real. It delivers.
A friend wondered if Hallmark shows are responsible for some of the stress, sadness, and disappointment many feel during their holiday seasons of Blue Christmases. Subsumed under masterfully produced illusions of what Christmas is supposed to deliver, they are enticed to yearn for what they are told others already have. But they aren’t the beautiful people. Their village squares and city streets don’t live up to the Disneyesque scenes shown on t.v. There is no magic angel or secret Santa. Romance is a distant improbability. Added to the mess is the pressure to buy, buy, buy what they cannot afford but are told they must want, must have. Not a single problem is solved by more debt. Is there a better answer; a more reliable hope? There is. It’s Advent.
Advent calls for a time of quiet, of waiting, of living into God’s gift of new life made present to us through a young woman seeking a place to give birth: a stranger in a strange town. It’s a strange gift. The baby Jesus needed ordinary people to love and care for him so that he might grow into the one who would love and care for us through death into life eternal. God dared to become vulnerable, trusting the baby Jesus to human care. Each year we are reminded that he needs us still to love and care for those who today are most vulnerable, most in need. Sometimes the most vulnerable, most in need, is you or me. Advent calls us to be kind to ourselves, to care for the Christ that is in us. In caring for ourselves we become prepared to care for the Christ that is in others, and that is how Christmas comes again in all it’s glory.
Have some Hallmark Christmas candy if you want, but not too much. There’s no nutrition in it. It’s all saccharine. Let Advent feed you with the true food of God’s love. It is the gift of life that the darkness cannot defeat.