It has been a too-short Advent. I can’t quite find my rhythm. Every day, I make my list, and every day, I scratch things off (unfinished) or move them to another day. A growing sense of urgency with this system, I am aware that there are fewer days this year than most. Eventually, I cannot move items forward. Time is running out
Advent is urgent. Hurry! It’s coming! There is a pressing message to pursue joy, to run after it so that on Christmas Day it will settle upon your house and bathe everyone in twinkly lights and cozy experiences that become cherished memories. In a culture where most Christmas parties take place before Dec. 25, anticipatory joy has become the joy. Clearly, though, the “joy of office parties” is not the deep, resounding joy of the Gospel.
But is time really running out on this season? We spend Advent in a flurry of the joy of anticipating joy, then the day of the beautiful feast comes, and then what? For many of us, there is a post-Christmas let down. Cookies have been baked, presents opened, guests come and gone. Then, it’s just over. The twinkly lights fade to gray, and winter gloom settles on wrinkled wrapping paper and cookie crumbs.
In truth, though, the Christmas season begins with Christmas. You can claim a season of extended joy for yourself. Further, in the quiet of Christmas night, you can see more clearly into the joy of the new year.
There is more joy. It’s far from over. Joy is not the revelry of festive cocktails and little black dresses and presents perfectly wrapped. True joy is the gift of unmerited grace.
True joy is knowing that even if you moved things along on your Advent list until you ran out of days and left them unfinished, a Baby was born — the God who created you — who will complete the good work He has begun in you (Phil 1:6).
Often, our Advent days are filled with so much merry-making, there’s not a lot of room left for Christ. The days after Christmas unfurl wide and unencumbered and ask us to invite Him in for the season and then to extend His stay into the year that waits.
As the vigil lights are lit on Christmas Eve, joy has just begun. Love is born. He brings power — a power not of men or women, but of God. It is an infinite power that is not bound by calendar days or tick marks on to-do lists. It seeps into the hard spaces of tricky human relationships and it fills the gaps of less-than-ideal communication. Love is the light for the dark days that does not rely on extension cords or replacement bulbs long sold out at Home Depot.
This is joy about which we must be intentional. We have to fight for it. Under house arrest, St. Paul exhorts us to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.” Far from the comfort of a Christmas tree and freshly unwrapped presents, he knew we’d struggle to find and keep our joy.
Christian life is both present joy and anticipatory joy. It is knowing now that we are loved beyond measure by a God who delights in us, and knowing that He wants nothing more for our lives than to bring us to Him in heaven. Life is Advent before paradise.
We can reclaim the season of Christmas, using those days to steep in the miracle of Christ’s birth. One day, there will be no let down after joyous events. One day, joy will be complete and eternal. In this, we find the confidence to pursue today’s joy. In this, we abandon all notions of control or merit, even in these last days of Advent when we erroneously behave as if the entire holiday rests upon our work.
It’s not about that work. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus who came to bring the peace of heaven to sinners who daily fall short of God’s glory. He brings it today, and Christmas day and next year. That’s the joy.
Take a deep breath and exhale. Time stretches before you, full of joy to be claimed. Let the future joy of heaven overflow into the here and now of this December life and into the new year.