Saturday, November 30, 2019

Advent Apologetics

This time of year, an ideological battle rages in Christian theological circles, a battle for which there is no end in sight.

When do we start celebrating Christmas?

Now, I don't believe this is as simple a question as it might seem to some. I've heard people argue that the world is dark and depressing enough, and we need as much light as possible in the world, so "Christmas Creep" really isn't the horrifying sin that it's been made out to be.

And I agree.

As someone who's lived with depression for more than 15 years now (because you can manage it, but it never really goes away), I know how important it is to let the light, no matter how tentative or dim, shine into your life at every possible opportunity. It's vital to remember that life is a gift from God, and that it's worth embracing, even when it doesn't feel like it--ESPECIALLY when it doesn't feel like it. That's why I have exactly zero qualms about radio stations starting to play Christmas music mid-November (just as the nights begin to feel too long to bear), and I've been known to put up my Christmas tree in late October.*

But I also disagree.

Because here's the thing: the world IS a dark and difficult place, even without the burden of mental illness. Humanity is cruel to one another. And while there's a need to remember the light, there's an equally vital need to acknowledge and live in the reality of the dark. It's not fun. It can be painful, even unbearable. But it's real, and it's true, and we're in it together.

See, the REASON Christmas is even a thing, why it's such a big deal to those of us who follow Christ, is because THE WORLD IS, AND ALWAYS HAS BEEN (at least post-Eden), A MESS. The Jewish people had been longing for a Messiah for so long because things were miserable and couldn't be fixed without divine intervention. They had been walking in the darkness of the world for centuries, oppressed by a foreign power, unable to practice their faith the way they longed to. They had hope--they believed with every fiber of their being that God would save and redeem them--but they had no proof beyond a promise, and no idea whether they would even behold the light in their lifetime.

And that's why Christmas is a miracle--not because a virgin gave birth (a whole nother debate/conversation), not because God came to earth as a baby (although that's certainly significant), not because the prophecies were fulfilled to a T (that's the whole point of a prophecy), but because the light FINALLY came, FINALLY shone in the darkness, after centuries of waiting and suffering.

And note that John's gospel says, "The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." It doesn't say, "The light completely obliterated the darkness." No. As we well know, darkness, evil, sin, and misery were certainly not destroyed on that night over 2000 years ago. But its POWER over us was destroyed through Christ's birth, life, and death, and that's why we celebrate. The darkness is still there, but it doesn't have the FINAL word, because we have been given a king who is greater than it could ever be.

So as we enter Advent once again, I invite you to hold these two things in tension: the need to remember the light, and the need to acknowledge the darkness. Personally, I accomplish that by cherishing the joyful traditions of Christmas at home, as often and as early as I need to. But in worship, I let myself become vulnerable in God's presence, and I allow myself to sit with the darkness for a while. I deliberately sit with the fact that I feel helpless, that the world feels completely beyond hope. It's not easy...but it's not meant to be. We're lucky--we know the wait for the Messiah is almost over. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But we still have to get through the tunnel first.

I know it can be difficult. Be gentle with yourself. If the darkness threatens to overcome you, reach out to someone. Take a break from Advent for a while. But do it because you need to for your well-being, not just because it's unpleasant to sit in darkness. Because without the darkness, we can't appreciate the light when it finally comes.

May your Advent be exactly what you need it to be this year so that your Christmas can be just as miraculous as the first Christmas.


*For the record, I haven't put up the Christmas tree before Thanksgiving since Nick and I moved in together, because he's an adamant "Christmas belongs in December"-ist. The things we do for love...

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