Traditionally, the Advent season begins with a period of penitence and fasting. Liturgically the use of purple during the weeks leading up to Christmas creates a visual connection between Advent and Lent, the two periods of preparation for Jesus’ birth and death. For early Christians, these four weeks were inextricably linked to the knowledge that Christ came as the “Word made flesh” to live among us and reveal God’s truth to the world through his life and teachings. As we rejoice in the coming of Christ’s birth, we also are mindful that his life led to his crucifixion, which culminated in his resurrection and the promise of new life for all of us.
Advent focuses our attention on Christ’s birth, while anticipating Christ’s death and resurrection. During this season we celebrate God’s invitation to reconciliation, but this is only the beginning, for as a people reconciled to God we become a people commissioned to “love the Lord God with all our hearts” and to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” The birth of Christ, confirmation of God’s bountiful love and unceasing faithfulness, gives rise to hope and joy regardless of the circumstances of our times. When we accept God’s invitation, we receive a call to discipleship, a call to spread the good news of reconciliation to others in a spirit of faithfulness, forgiveness and love.
Are we ready to celebrate God-made-flesh? Are we ready to leap with both feet into a relationship with God? Are we ready for discipleship?
The first ones to hear the news, and thus mark the advent of an age of reconciliation with God, were poor shepherds, some of the lowest ranking members of Jewish society. Their work made it impossible for them to observe the Jewish ceremonial laws and temple rituals, so they were considered religiously unclean and unacceptable. They weren’t considered trustworthy and were not allowed to give testimony in a Jewish court of law. They were social outcasts, yet they are at the heart of the joyous message—that Christ came for lowly shepherds, for all the forgotten people of the earth, for all of us.
Are we ready to receive this Christ? What might be holding us back? What will we need to let go of?
One of the marvels for me about The Church of the Saviour is what happens when people respond wholeheartedly to God’s call to relationship. Lives are changed. People find jobs or get an education. The hungry are fed. The homeless and dying are given shelter. Hearts and eyes are opened to new ways of loving God’s children. Fears are relieved. Past hurts are healed. Reconciliation happens. Receiving God’s invitation to relationship with joy and thanksgiving is a call to live without fear in the midst of all the problems of life with a faith that continues to see possibility when there is no present evidence of it. All because God is God, and we are God’s people.
It never ceases to amaze me that God so often begins with small things and inadequate people. God chose an unwed teenager to give birth to the Messiah, in a stable, with outcast shepherds to receive the news and be the first to visit them. God could have chosen “bigger” things and “better” people, but God chose a teenage girl and some outcasts—just as God chooses little old me, too, with the hope and longing that I will say yes and choose God back. What a humbling thought!
As we move into this Advent season, let us remember with thanksgiving that Christ was born to show us how to live and to give us the opportunity to be reconciled to God and one another. What will we need to let go of to prepare room in our hearts, our lives, our work and our play for Christ? Will we be ready this year for Christmas?
Kate Lasso is a member of the Eighth Day Faith Community and loves remembering, and being reminded of, what the Advent season is really about.