This reflection comes from Julie Clawson. Julie is a mom, a writer, and former pastor who lives in Austin, TX with her family. She is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices and blogs at julieclawson.com.
It can be easy to despise Advent. I don’t mean the period of waiting in hopeful expectation itself, but the actual trappings of the season. It is easy to despise the commercialism – to condemn the frenzy and the greed and see it as an obstacle to entering into a meaningful discipline if waiting. It can be easy to despise those that jump straight into Christmas – those that deck the halls in red and green and blast Christmas carols during what should be a time of building expectation. It is easy to despise those that leave Christ out of Christmas (or to despise those that get offended when Christ gets left out of Christmas). From tacky decorations, to pushy sales clerks, to religious wars – the hustle and bustle and the secular trappings of the season often stand in the way of our hopeful anticipation of the Christ child. And so we despise it all, letting Advent become a time of spite and condemnation.
I’m one of the first to question the all consuming ways of empire and consumerism, but I’ve had to humbly realize that all too often I let my animosity towards such things turn my experience of Advent into a twisted period of judgment instead of hope. And in standing in that judgment I prevented myself from encountering Jesus in the very things I despised. I found myself hoping to draw near to a Jesus of my own creation – a Jesus that liked the things I like and ran in the same circles as I did. This was the Jesus I lit the candles for in hopeful expectation during Advent.
But of course, my image of Jesus was a poor reflection of the real Jesus. Jesus was the one who was out there in the world, hanging out with the uncouth and common members of society. He was accused of being a drunkard and glutton because he enjoyed being with and feasting with people. Sure, he delivered challenges to his culture and found moments for retreat, but he didn’t shun it because he despised it for getting in the way of his contemplative spiritual journey.
The Messiah showed up where no one expected him to. Born to a poor family in the unexpected dinginess of a stable, he subverted all cultural expectations. I’ve had to learn that my narrow expectations about Jesus do not give me the right to define the modern American secular Christmas as God-forsaken. Even there – subverting expectations – Jesus is at work. If I desire to draw near to Christ this Advent, I need to let go of my judgment and condemnation of such places and be willing to see how Jesus appears unexpectedly even there. My narrow conception of Advent should not lead me to a place of bitterness and hate, but instead allow me to find hope in the redemption of all things wherever it may be occurring.