I bet I know what you’re thinking.
You’re probably thinking that I’m a few weeks too early with my New Year’s greeting. And there are twenty days left until the ball drops and we all celebrate the rolling over of the calendar into 2018.
Yet, in the Christian Tradition, the New Year has already begun.
Advent, the season of preparation and anticipation for Christmas, marks the beginning of a New Year. The imagery this brings to us is rich and meaningful.
The New Year begins in the coldest and darkest time. The Winter Solstice (December 21) is the shortest day of the year, with daylight lasting less than eight hours. In this same season, as the daylight wanes, we celebrate the light that enters the world in the person of Jesus. The early Christians chose this time of year to celebrate the Nativity. They didn’t believe Jesus was actually born on December 25 (truth be told we have no idea when Jesus was born, just that it was sometime before 4 BCE), but they intentionally chose this season to symbolically express who Jesus was and is for them: the light shining in the darkness. So, we welcome this light during Advent, we light candles for hope, peace, joy, love, and ultimately, Christ. Yet our task is not to simply welcome the light, but also to embody it into the world around us.
Another meaningful image revolves around creation. For us in the northern hemisphere, the ground is growing colder, harder. Winter is often used as an image for death. The leaves have fallen, the trees are now bare. Life hibernates. In Advent, however, we celebrate the birth of New Creation in the midst of the dying of the old. The Christ-child comes, not when creation is at its most fecund and abundant, but when it is at its most barren; when life is most scarce.
The church year begins at the most absurd moment, and yet it is in this absurdity that we find the hope, the promise that something new is coming. It is in the deepest darkness that the light begins to shine.
As we move through Advent, let’s intentionally hold this tension that light comes in the darkness, life in the midst of death, hope in the depths of despair. Let’s be mindful that the it is often in the most bleak of seasons that joy comes bounding into the world. May we not simply gawk by the manger; instead may we carry the hope, peace, joy, and love this child embodies into our own lives and world.