December 6, 2012 § 1 Comment
This Advent season is the first time I’ve really made space to let the reality of Christ’s birth rest in me. It’s also the first time I’ve realized the amazing gap between the exhilarating event of Christ coming into the world and the rather tepid cultural experience of Christmas. Maybe this gap explains why the holidays have always been more comfortable than joyous for me. Every year, the season has been very predictable, and there’s been very little surprise in any of it—especially the kind of surprise that raises the everyday to the extraordinary. To be completely honest, that’s maybe all I really wanted — the usual get togethers, a Messiah performance somewhere, people generally in a better mood, time off, no big drama, and no surprises.
Maybe I needed to become open to surprise before I could wake up to the meaning of Advent, because when I think about it now, every aspect of Christ’s birth seems surprising to me. Surprising that God would choose to reconcile with us by becoming one of us. Surprising, the humble setting for such a momentous birth. Surprising also, the people to whom the event was announced and the ways it was proclaimed. Most surprising of all, the form that the hand of redemption would take —not a powerful fist demanding our crushing obedience, but a tiny hand that would grow to reach out to us in a relentless gesture of compassion. God with us.
Christ’s teaching must have been completely surprising in his lifetime. There was such a gap between the expectations of those watching for him and his living reality. And, because of that expectation, they couldn’t be surprised by love. Now as then, is there anything more unexpected than love? Not so much the love we have for family and friends — not love reflected in kind, but the open, free-flowing, unattached, unexpected love that Christ showed us. We know it when we experience it because of the unusual joy that we only feel in those moments when we come close to Christ’s love. And, because of Christ’s life, that love and joy is our birthright.
When I look around, it seems that the longing for that love is everywhere, and the ache that people experience in its absence is profound. It’s especially noticeable at this time of year. What a surprise if must be for those who long for love to receive it in some measure, no matter how small. How much more surprising it must be for those who have long ago given up on that longing. Perhaps what “at the last day” will be, is a world where love is no longer surprising, where it infuses everything about us. A world where we’re turned inside-out and our greatest joy is realized in losing ourselves in our love for each other and in coming together in the endless embrace of our Christ, who has been waiting for us all along.
So, my prayer for this Advent, it is that I might notice where I can surprise people with love. I want to be awake to the everyday places, the places that are easy to miss, the places where someone will be surprised by an unexpected act of generosity, or kindness. It might be offering to help a mother with a stroller on the subway stairs. Maybe it will be in coming on to someone looking through a trash can for food, and offering them a meal. Or maybe it will be something as simple as giving an understanding glance to one of the hundreds of people I see daily who are made frightened, lonely, and angry by the pressures of their life — a healing recognition far beyond the moment. Something unexpected, something surprising, something that, like that unexpected star, will point to Bethlehem and the reason for any love I have to offer — Christ was born.
– Tom Wharton