Advent is drawing to a close.
On Sunday morning we'll celebrate the fourth and final Sunday of Advent and then that evening we'll celebrate Christmas Eve! There will be candle lighting and singing and bell ringing and festive vestments and all the things that point to something grand, significant, and holy.
Advent is a time of waiting and it gives way to the season of Christmastide when what we've been waiting for arrives in ritual and in narrative. What exactly is it for which we wait?
Of course the simple answer is "Jesus." But why do we get so excited about him? He was a prophet, but neither the world's first nor last. He was a healer, but neither the world's first nor last. He was a Wisdom teacher, but neither the world's first nor last. Some called him a divine child, but that claim wasn't unique in his world. Some called him a messiah, but that too was not a unique claim. And, to complexify the issue, most of us know embarrassingly little about the person who inspires such devotion and adoration within us. So, if Jesus is "the reason for the season," the question remains, "why?" What is it about the story of Jesus that causes us to wait with eager anticipation for the retelling of his story and then to celebrate with wild abandon when we get to hear the story again. What is so special about this Jesus of Nazareth?
The truth is that Jesus is for Christians a symbol and symbols point beyond themselves to multiple layers of truth and meaning. Because Jesus is our symbol he represents more than any one person can articulate, and he represents different things to different people. He points to ultimate meaning and that is obviously something worthy of excitement.
Did he intend to become a symbol? Did he know he would become a symbol? Did he want to be a symbol? Would he have been comfortable as a symbol? Frankly, I have my doubts. But history and myth have made him a symbol in any case, and all that he symbolizes fills us with renewed hope and a zest for living.
Jesus symbolizes divinity being housed in human experience. He symbolizes "God with us" which is cause for both hope and celebration. If God dwells among us and within us, if God is housed in human experience, if God (or whatever word you care to use to indicate the best of life) is as accessible as a person walking among us (or looking back at us from the mirror), then we can probably handle the challenges and changes in life. We can live with quality. We can live with peace. We can live with joy. We can share and care and co-create an ever improving world. Jesus as "messiah" or "son of God" is not, I believe, an historical reality to be worshiped but rather a metaphysical symbol reminding us of the divine presence always within and among us, always available to us, acting through and as us to heal, comfort, strengthen and renew.
We're waiting for a reminder that the power of God is available to us, as available as if that power had a name and a body. That reminder is coming as the stories of Christmas, and those stories continue to offer Truth and hope that we need as much today as ever before. We wait just a bit longer, and then very soon we celebrate the Truth of our being: God is with us.