Let’s put aside the tiresome whine that Christmas has become too secular. Excuse me, we live capitalist lives, where opportunity to make a buck at anyone’s or anything’s expense is our guaranteed right. I heard a radio recording of the great poet James Baldwin, remark during the Christmas season of 1963 that Christ’s birth was now commercially enmeshed. After 50 years there’s nothing new. It is the system we live with. We shouldn’t waste our time trying to convince the markets that they shouldn’t make money. We have better things to do than out-singing the Macy’s jingle with Silent Night. We can’t adjust our culture to what we might prefer. Nor do we want this culture to make us adjust, to become a person who forgets the heart of our celebration. Yes the date Xmas is arbitrary and all the characters are often portrayed inaccurately, and yes the metaphors within the story speak even more powerfully than the literal narrative, but we will not deprive even the secularists of stars and angel’s singing and gifts. Culture would prefer to ignore a gentle reality and we would hope to ignore boisterous superficiality.
Our only alternative is to be advent-ing. To advent (why not it be an action word) isn’t sitting around on our hands of faith and simply waiting. It isn’t a helpless, malleable passivity. It is an active alertness to the God present in our world. In the bible, God once or twice got people’s attention through drama (at least they thought it was God), but dramatics were far and few between. It was the quiet, barely audible or almost unnoticeable moments through which God tried to get folks attention. It rarely succeeded and so God had to nudge, entice and whisper over and over, as God’s people competed by making their own noise, caught up with the wild distractions of war, violence, demonizing others and partying.
Over and over, God would wait in quiet presence for us to notice, be attentive to the God-desires laid out in a kingdom that does not come with trumpeting angels, we would wish to daily hear, but the gentle whimper of a baby, barely sensed and easily ignored. Our Advent is our quiet wondering moving alongside of God’s quiet response. Our adventing notices God’s action; not the ones we may wish for, but the ones that God has eternally does. We wake to, watch for and walk in the way of Jesus Christ who we come to know at his birth. How unassuming is this baby. How non-threatening is his presence and power.
If we don’t wake in silence, watch for gentleness, walk in this new light, we miss God. In order to be awakened by God we have to be in a place where we can be alert to Jesus’ coming. This is God’s final, quiet whisper. Shhhh, listen or you may miss out! wake, watch, listen.