And the angel said unto them, Fear not!
for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people!
A bunch of confused folks showed up to church this morning, heard Christmas carols, and were ready to hightail it out again. We already *did* Christmas. It’s done. We survived, and now it’s time to get on to the next thing.
But the Church year, the old pathway of marking spiritual time, isn’t ready for us to leave Christmas yet. In the Church year, the Christmas season lasts from Christmas Day until Epiphany on January 6th. We get 12 Days of Christmas, 12 days of celebrating, 12 days of feasting, before the lectionary lets us move on to the next thing. The Church splits time into fasts and feasts, times to celebrate and times to mourn, and the Christmas season is one feast day after another.
How the hell are we supposed to celebrate for 12 whole days, the weary world says. What is there to celebrate right now. We can take one day of celebrating, sure. At midnight services on Christmas Eve we sing “a thrill of hope! a weary world rejoices!” joyfully, and go on to eat pie and unwrap presents with gusto.
But gosh, that time between Christmas and New Years is more exhausting than celebratory. If our Christmas Day was terrible, we need time to recover with a good therapist and a month of emotional hibernation. If Christmas was wonderful, we still need to recover from it – we’re overfed, overtired, and overstimulated. I don’t really have it in me to try and be joyful right now. I don’t have the energy to fake it. I don’t have it in me to chase Joy.
If I was you – a little more comfortable in Advent’s grief and longing than in Christmas joy – then I wouldn’t worry about it.
I honestly wouldn’t worry about it.
Your grief has a place at the feast table, too.
I wasted so much time trying to fake joy.
“It’s time to be happy now!” the season demands, and if we aren’t happy, we gotta pretend to be.
I wish someone had taught me that it’s OK to be sad.
I wish the Church taught us that the Christmas season isn’t a time to pretend to be happy or else.
Beloveds, Christmas is when we look back in history to the moment that God came chasing us down in the middle of our sorrow. The Incarnation is a reminder that even when we weren’t trying to be happy, and even when we had quit on running after God, God came anyway.
We sit around in a dark room and play-act that the room is brightly lit, and name that faking “hope.” The whole point of Advent and Christmas, though, is that God came while we were in the darkness, while we were hopeless, while we were in the middle of fear and longing and grief. The whole point of Advent is acknowledging suffering, and learning how to lament.
The Incarnation gives us permission to lament, because the Incarnation promises us that God not only hears our laments, but will come for us. Every time. Not after the darkness has passed on its own, not after we’ve patched the world up a bit, not after we’ve put on a smile – but right smack dab in the middle of the sorrow, God comes. He did it before, and He will do it again. The Incarnation reveals the character of God – that God makes promises, and then keeps them.
The whole point of Advent is that we don’t have to fake it anymore.
In the darkness, light will break.
That means that we don’t have to be afraid of naming the darkness anymore. We don’t have to be scared of it. It’s real, it sucks, it saps our strength and wears down our souls, but it will not be forever, even if it is now.
For the ones who mourn, the Christmas feast days can be a gift – if we release the urge to fake it, and learn how to name our lament even at the feast table. For the ones who struggle, Christmas can be a reminder in the middle of the darkness that God always, always comes. Christmas is permission to grieve without faking it.
We don’t have to pretend we’re fine. Joy isn’t here today, but Christmas promises us that Joy always comes. Even if sometimes the wait feels too heavy to bear.
It’s OK if your soul is still hanging out in Advent, and it’s OK if you don’t feel like faking Christmas seasonal joy. It’s OK if you’re tired and worn down. It’s OK if you are skeptical of the feast times in the Church calendar that we’re barrelling into, and it’s OK if you feel too tired to chase down God.
It’s more than OK.
Let your soul rest in the name of God, Immanuel. Let your soul grieve with a God who grieves alongside us. Let your soul be tired with Jesus, who had a tired body, too.
God doesn’t quit, or give up, on God’s people. And Beloved, you are God’s person, and we are all God’s children, and God is relentlessly seeking us in every way imaginable.
The Incarnation tells us that we have nothing to fear from the darkness.
The light shines in it, and the darkness won’t beat it.