Advent for the Churchless, Week 1: Hope

As my family moves the first week of December, we have found ourselves churchless for Advent. If you are in the same situation – whether it’s because you’ve been hurt by the church, or because you are in transition, or if you just haven’t found a good fit yet, you’re welcome here. And if you do go to church? Well, you’re welcome too. 

I always feel a little nostalgic when I hear “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

adventcandlesweek1 Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, it doesn’t make me “a little nostalgic.” It makes me want to sob uncontrollably. For as cheerful as the words are, the music sure doesn’t match it. The music calls to mind Hallmark movies with montages of families hanging scarce ornaments on a Charlie Brown tree, far from family and loved ones. The lyrics are hopeful, but the music is not.

Isn’t that how life is sometimes?

The hopeful and the discouraging get all muddled up, until it’s hard to see which is which. We see the smile on our child’s face… when we get the news of our layoff. We hear of a friend’s pregnancy… when another holiday passes with our own empty arms. We get that email from a friend we haven’t heard from in ages… when we still can’t bring ourselves to pick up the phone to call our siblings.

Riots in our country. Unaccompanied minors. ISIS. Unemployment. More bad news.

Where is the hope? What are we even hoping for?

I love the Christmas season, I really do. I went to the mall today and was actually taken aback by the lack of Christmas music. I need my holiday cheer! For every mournful “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” there is another “Sleigh Ride” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” – and I love those songs!! I listen to Christmas music 24/7 (seriously, Pandora Chanticleer Christmas station is playing in my house all.night.long), I watch Christmas movies (ALL the Christmas movies!), I light my evergreen candle, and I admire lights when I drive down the road.

But I’ve realized that sometimes we like to rush into Christmas. I’m not talking about the decorations out at stores in October – I’m talking about our rush into feigned happiness. We sing along with Bing Crosby, we hang our wreaths, we go to an Ugly Sweater Party with friends… and we force a smile on our face as we fake our way through yet another season of silver bells.

But when we stop for a minute, there’s more to it, isn’t there? We blind ourselves with Black Friday sales and recipes from Pinterest, but deep down, we just don’t buy into it. We have this culture of pretending during the holidays, this culture of pretending that all is joyous – but really? A lot of times, it’s not.

Which brings me to my favorite part of the Christmas story – the whole story of redemption of humanity – is that this is not the end.

There is hope.

Advent brings the hope that whatever story your life wrote this past year, it’s not over yet.

We rejoice in the hope that Christmas is coming, that Jesus knows our pain, that Jesus suffered in all his humanity, that – though we might not see an earthly end to our pain, this is not the end of our story. Our stories – yours, and mine, and the person sitting next to you, and the person you haven’t talked to in years – our stories are still being written. And the story of humanity, the overarching theme that binds us all together, that is still being written – day by day, year by year, by you and me and the person sitting next to you and the person you haven’t talked to in years. The person you see in the headlines, the nameless and faceless who seem to count only as statistics. This is our story. And this is not the end.  

We have hope. Hope that it might not get better, but it could.

We all could use a healthy dose of hope this season, and that hope is contained in a tiny little baby in a manger. Because the good news about that baby? The good news is that he didn’t stay a baby forever. That baby grew to speak into unjust systems, to turn the status quo on its head, to reinterpret what it meant to live faithfully..  and because of that?

Hope arrives.

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