The season of Advent approaches. For Christians, at least some of them, it’s a time of patient waiting for the annual reminder that God has not abandoned us, but came among us in the most intimate and vulnerable way possible. It’s been a long, difficult year. We’re tired of waiting, tired of not knowing, tired of COVID and masks, tired of politics and elections, and frankly, tired of each other. Some of us are tired of wondering whether God even cares.
Maybe we’ve grown soft. Waiting shouldn’t be so difficult. A difficult year like this is only twelve months long. It’s not that much. The world didn’t know for whom it was waiting, but the prophecies announcing the messiah came 500 years before his birth. The ancient Hebrews waited 400 years to be led from Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, and, as the story goes, another 40 years to make the trip. The generation of the Great Depression waited a decade for it to cease, and then endured a world war before anything like ‘normal’ would be theirs again. In the scheme of things, twelve months isn’t much.
Consider the words of Habakuk who wrote: “Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines, though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. (Hab 3)
This year required of us the modest sacrifice of using common sense to protect ourselves and others from the pandemic at the cost of less travel, reasonable terms of isolation, practicing good hygiene, and wearing masks. We could have endured less economic hardship and fewer deaths, but too many of us found that too hard, and believed these small sacrifices were a draconian threat to one’s personal freedom to do as one likes. Even more astounding are the numbers who denied the pandemic was real, or serious, even as hospitals and morgues filled to capacity.
As if the pandemic wasn’t enough, we had the most bizarre presidential election in two hundred years. The transition period has turned into a theater of the absurd in which a large portion of the audience believes phantasmagoric delusions of election fraud to be true, based on not one scintilla of evidence whatsoever. How can that be?
Into this mess comes Advent, our annual season of patient waiting, reminding us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are God’s ways our ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways higher than ours. As the rain and snow come down from the skies , and do not return until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall God’s word be; it shall not return to God empty, but shall accomplish what God intends, and succeed in the thing for which God sent it. (Isa. 55)
Christmas will come, as it always does, on December 25. The nation will celebrate a secular festival of hope fueled by the sentimental magic of a gross of Hallmark movies. Christians will celebrate along with everyone else, but ours will always be anchored in the remembrance that the Word of God became flesh as a helpless baby born in dark and troubled times, far darker and more troubled than ours. If the light of Christ could not be extinguished then, it cannot be extinguished now.
A new year is dawning for all of us, and a vaccine with it. How shall we enter into it? For Christians, perhaps we need to be reminded that Jesus gave us but two commandments to follow, and in two thousand years we have not yet learned to follow them. This could be the year.