This Is Now

I am thankful Thanksgiving has ended. It felt like it took forever. We make a one-day orgy of carbohydrates and turn it into one of the most extended shopping weekends of the year. I do, from the bottom of my heart, hope everyone is grateful for the experience.

With that out of the way, I’m ready to move on. No, I’m not putting gratitude or thanksgiving behind me. As I said, those are daily challenges. Whether you’re a Methodist, Quaker, or Shaker; gratitude is an art we practice not an application to download. So what’s next? I would like a more significant challenge.  What?

I’m looking forward to Christmas.

Before you get excited and expect to see lights draped on the fence and reindeer dancing on the parsonage roof, hold on to your Blitzens. I’m not talking about “Christmas” or the “Christmas” you’re picturing. To be honest, I’m ready for Advent. People, even Christians, use the word interchangeably and it’s almost lost all meaning. Even at church, I’ll catch myself saying “Advent/Christmas.” Despite my hardcore, old school liturgical high church upbringing, I actually say “Advent-slash-Christmas.” Sisters and brothers, forgive me for this concession to the War on Advent. I pray you’ll give me strength this year to fight the good fight and sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ for four weeks straight.

I need Advent because I need Jesus. I could do without Santa. Santa is a creepy old man in a red suit. He’s an amalgamation of so many northern European folktales and religious traditions; the only people who really know what Santa means are the marketers who make money from his image. Santa’s story makes us feel good about ourselves and the choices we’ve made. Santa causes us to look inward. Jesus’ story demands we look at the world around us.

We must rehear Jesus’ story. Jesus is an impoverished child from a part of the world most of us think we understand. His mother is a teenager. A local gang leader murdered every male infant in his village because he was threatened by Jesus’ birth. When all is said an done, they are a mother, father, and infant fleeing for their lives. Jesus is born into violence. Jesus seeks sanctuary. Jesus asks for asylum, not only in hearts but in our churches. Why? The incarnation is a present tense reality. This is us. This is now.

If we do not see him, we are ignoring him. I am prepared to deny Santa and all he has come to represent. I cannot reject Jesus, in all his many forms, moving in our midst.

Richard Lowell Bryant