Each year, a few weeks before Advent, the Advent calendars arrive in shops: cardboard images with twenty-five numbered doors, or wooden containers with numbered drawers; they help us count down the days from December 1st until Christmas Day. They build our anticipation, as each day we look forward to opening the door or pulling out the drawer and getting the image, the chocolate, the Bible verse hidden behind each one.
My favorite one this year was secular: the Star Wars Episode VII Advent calendar. Produced in conjunction with Lego, it held, behind each numbered door, a kit to assemble a tiny robot, space alien, Jedi, or space ship. (Sadly, I did not own one of these calendars personally.) I loved it because I love Lego and because the first three Star Wars movies were part of the mythology of my adolescence. I loved the sheer absurdity of counting down to Christmas with aliens and starships, rather than shepherds and camels. But above all, I loved the reminder that this year, all around the world, hundreds of millions of men, women, and children were eagerly awaiting, not Santa, but Han Solo. It put our Christian anticipation into perspective.
Advent is a season of anticipation, but now that it is drawing to a close, it’s worth asking: what are we hoping for? The easy answer is that we are hoping for the birth of Christ, or, at least, for the celebration of his birth, so many years ago. The truth, I think, is that we are hoping for a time of joy, peace, humanity, kindness, and light. We are awaiting a promised world in which people sing Christmas carols rather than hurling taunts, in which the giving of gifts replaces the charging of prices, in which the practice of reverence becomes universal, and we kneel at the feet of the baby Jesus only to rise and honor his presence in one another. That, I think, is what we are hoping to see.
If it is, we are in luck — because Christ visits us that way, not only amid the stars and trumpets of Christmas, but each day, when we still our lives and open our hearts and invite him in. A friend of mine once commented that he did not like worship at his school because no one seemed to expect to encounter Jesus. The truth is, we should expect to encounter him each time we kneel in prayer or walk into a church or open our mouths in carols or hymns. Because he is always there. His love is all around us. The question is whether we are present to him.
I pray that you will be, this Christmas and always.