The gospel readings leading up to Christmas can be a little disconcerting. There are signs filled with fear and foreboding (Luke 21); strange preachers in camel’s hair (Luke 3; Matthew 3); a litany of insults and admonitions that would make your worst Thanksgiving dinner moments seem tame by comparison (Luke 3, once again). Just what were the lectionary planners thinking?
The readings’ strangeness is partly due to the order of events in the gospels. Though there is some build-up to the moment when Jesus is born, the readings in Advent, by necessity, also reflect moments after the birth of Jesus. In Advent, we approach Jesus’ birth from both directions: we look back at the manger from the middle of Jesus’s ministry, while at the same time anticipating his arrival in the manger.
I find this habit to be helpful for us 2,000 years after the fact. We remember the miracle of Jesus’ birth, and yet we look forward to a time when he will wipe every tear from our eyes, “when Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Rev 21:4). God meets us in the middle of history: a time when we look back to God’s faithfulness in the past, while at the same time looking forward to what God has yet to accomplish.
To receive the Christ child—the boy who would be King born in Bethlehem—means to enjoy the gift of God-with-us, God’s ever-present grace in our lives. It also means, however, listening to the prophets who prepared the way by calling us to repentance: pushing us to return to the way of love, calling us out of slavery to sin and into the freedom of the Good News.
In this season of preparation, let us hold together the call to joy and call to repentance: knowing ourselves to be God’s beloved, and yet always mindful that there is work yet to be done. Good work. Life-affirming, soul-liberating work.
—Fr. JavierTags: From the Clergy, Hope for the Journey