The Advent season is under way, and the anticipation is already building as we look towards the coming of Immanuel, God With Us, at Christmas. At Sojourn, we’ll be entering into the season as a church in a couple of ways: first, we’ll be focusing our Sunday worship gatherings on the themes of Advent: hope, love, joy, and peace. The essence of Advent is that we have these characteristics in part because of Christ’s first coming at Christmas, but that we look to a day when we’ll experience them in full as Christ comes a second and final time. Advent places us in between these two comings, and invites us to quiet ourselves and open our hearts to receive Christ in the midst of the broken world in which we live.
But another way Sojourn is entering into the Advent season is by throwing a Christmas party. We’ll be gathering at the church this coming Sunday evening at 5 PM for a time of enjoying each other’s company, eating some good cookies and finger foods, and singing some Christmas carols. A couple things to note about this year’s Christmas party: First, we’re infusing the festive atmosphere with a spirit of healthy competition, as we’re bringing back the Men’s Cookie Competition. So, men of Sojourn, bring your best 2 dozen homemade cookies for a shot at glory and prestige! Make sure not to be late, as the judging will start at 5:15 on the dot.
Second, we’re trying something that’s a little risky, but which could be the best thing ever: we’re forming the first ever Sojourn Christmas Orchestra! If you play an instrument, or if you played one back in the day, break it out of storage and come at 4:30 PM on Sunday for a short rehearsal of Christmas carols out of the hymnal. Seriously, don’t worry if you haven’t played in years - your musical contribution will be much appreciated, in one way or another.
At first glance, a Christmas party might not seem to be the best way to observe Advent, which is more often characterized by hopeful longing and waiting for Christ’s coming. But while a season with only celebration would miss the full meaning of Advent, so would a season without celebration. I found this excerpt from Bobby Gross’s Living The Christian Year to be helpful in balancing both celebration and longing during Advent:
“Our experience of the weeks of December can vary widely, depending on our disposition and situation. Some of us are readily caught up in the festive atmosphere. Kids are released from school, lights and decorations sparkle, gifts and cards arrive, friends throw parties, we gather with extended family and a generous impulse rises in us. We do want peace on earth and feel good will toward others. All this makes us want to sing.
Some of us, however, readily feel the weight of these days - the obligations, the drift into depression, the pull of temptation, the anxiety of difficult family relationships, the resurfacing grief over those we have lost, the discouragement from daily headlines. We feel cynical in the midst of all the holiday hoopla and superficiality. It makes us want to groan.
The dual nature of Advent invites both songs and groans.
Imagine, with Isaiah’s help, life in the world to come, the new Jerusalem: a place with no wrenching losses, tearful memories or cries of despair, a place where every baby grows up healthy and every person lives a long and fruitful life, a place where all work is meaningful and the economics are always just, a place where the environment is unspoiled and its creatures unthreatened, a place where each of us knows a joyful intimacy with God. Imagine…and let your heart sing! Then open your eyes to every contemporary sign of such shalom, such full-orbed peace and well-being, in the world around you and in your own life. We see and sing for joy.
Paul, too, speaks of a “glory about to be revealed” but not without acknowledging “the sufferings of this present time” (see Rom. 8:18-25). The whole creation, the very cosmos, groans as if in labor. There will be the birth of a new order, free from the decay and devastation and disease we see now. And not only creation; we ourselves groan. We see the corruption of our world and we know the corruption within ourselves, our own moral flaws and our own part in what is wrong. We see and groan in lament.
So in your Advent prayers, give yourself permission to sing and permission to groan. Remember that the sweet taste of shalom during Advent is only that, a taste; it is not the full feast yet to come. And the groans induced by our sufferings are not the final sounds; one day they will be subsumed into a chorus of glory. So sing and let your songs be joyful longings; groan and let your cries be hopeful laments."
Amen. Make plans to join us this Sunday evening for our Christmas Party, but remember that our partying should be infused with longing. And if you find yourself groaning in the face of the brokenness you see, remember that your groaning can be infused with hope. Come, Lord Jesus, come!