Someone told me this week that it didn’t “feel” like Christmas yet. I think I know what that means. I think this person was saying that the weather hadn’t cooperated and the spirit of the season had not overcome them yet. Or they meant that some “moment” had not happened, some emotional experience that occurs when the radio plays “Mary, Did You Know?” or we light candles on Christmas Eve or pass the cookies at the Moravian Love Feast or whatever the moment is for you. Then it “feels” like Christmas…finally.
But what happens if the moment doesn’t come? What happens if this year, we pass through the entire season weighed down with other emotions (regret or grief perhaps) and other circumstances (pain or illness maybe) and we never feel the moment? What if this year December 25 comes and goes and it never, not once, feels like Christmas? I suspect, sooner or later, we all have that year.
Biblical faith suggests that, contrary to our expectations and efforts, this may not be about such a moment. In fact, the story seems predicated on precisely the opposite. The story seems to occur in times and places where a moment when something “feels” right is elusive. Israel is in exile in the days of Isaiah, not feeling good but longing for home and the familiar. An unwed mother visits her expectant older aunt in a time when that makes for plenty of scandal to go around. No one “feels” like anything. A child is born in the dark days of the Roman empire and the rule of Herod over Judea and few people celebrate.
Yet, Isaiah sings of homecoming and promise. The aunt says that her child leaps for joy in the womb at the approach of the unwed mother. The child’s birth is greeted with hope and possibility by the few who do acknowledge it.
Theologically, this is all possible not because we “feel” anything but because God makes it so, because God comes into darkness and despair, into scandal and scarcity, and creates a new way. When we can acknowledge the ways of God, even when we don’t feel like it, then we know joy.
We’ll talk about “joy” some more this Sunday – joy as something distinct from happiness, joy as something deeper and more resilient than emotion – and we’ll celebrate the joy that accompanies baptisms and the reception of new members. I hope you’ll join us as we continue to think about “All I Want for Christmas” and joy. You may want to ponder Isaiah 35:1-10 and Luke 1:39-45 before you come.
It will be a joy to see you Sunday. Advent blessings.