Here are my two Advent calendars for 2020. The calendar on the left incorporates the words of #AdventWord–a ministry of Virginia Theological Seminary. The one on the right contains my prayers for others. Advent was full of illness and death for friends and family. The daily encounter with the emerging tapestry of words and names on both calendars made me feel part of a widespread community of both hurt and hope.1
It’s the 6th day of Christmas and I want to beg my neighbors not to discard their Christmas trees so quickly. Already, there are naked trees at the ends of driveways. Not yet, please; at least keep the decorations up until January 6. I confess to some hefty rigidity about celebrating Christmas until Epiphany, the day after the twelfth day of Christmas. But this year especially, when there has been so much darkness, I need the lights and the glitz.
My psyche is still in Advent mode. Advent lasted twenty-six days in 2020. I had almost a month to practice being an Advent person, a person who remembers, longs, hopes, waits, despairs, expects…. I need more than one day to practice what it means to be a Christmas person. A Christmas person delights in prophecies and promises fulfilled, celebrates Incarnation–God’s coming into the world in Jesus and our own experience of being flesh and blood, and in spite of so much evidence of Sorrow, recklessly touts the victory of the Joy team…. I guess I need the visual reminders of light and color to regale this time and to keep my spirits from falling back into the dark side of Advent and pandemic despair.
For many people Christmas is just plain over. Christians included. They wait for the next big part of the church year which is Lent and Easter. I want to propose a little “front-porch” theology. This is the stuff I pray about and ponder as I sit on my front porch. I think we miss half of the message of the Salvation story of Jesus if we think of Easter as the most important Christian season. In the Episcopal Church and many other liturgical churches, we have a three-sentence story we proclaim every Sunday as we celebrate the Eucharist or Holy Communion:
Christ has Died.
Christ is Risen.
Christ will Come Again.
These words are called the Mystery of Faith. It is the Lent and Easter story. And I love saying them. They summarize the Death, Resurrection, and Return of Jesus, the Christ, with the emphasis on Jesus’s divinity. But I think there is an equally important three-sentence story about Jesus, the man who was born and experienced three decades of life before the showdown at Lent and Easter. Here is my three-sentence story:
Christ was Longed For.
Christ was Born.
Christ will Spread like Wildfire.
For me, this is the prequel to the Mystery of Faith or the First Mystery of Faith. These sentences celebrate Incarnation—the life and humanity of Jesus. They are a summary of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany—the whole Season of the Nativity. My desire to extend the Nativity Season at home is not just my selfish need for light and glitz, but a passionate belief that Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany are just as important as Lent and Easter. We are in the Christmas season for another week. Epiphany starts on January 6 and celebrates the spread of Jesus’s influence beyond the boundaries of a small town in a small country. Theologian and preacher Peter Gomes said, “This is the most important season of the church’s year because this is the season in which we come to see who Jesus is, where he is to be found, and where we begin to understand what he is about.”2 Epiphany, the “shining forth,” is the reminder that we are players and makers in the emerging kingdom of God, that we spread the fire of the Gospel.
1 Walter Brueggemann, Advent/Christmas Proclamation 3
2 Peter J. Gomes,Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living(New York: William Morrow and Company, 1998), 30-31.