Whatever happened to Advent?
Hobgoblins and warty-nosed witches were hardly in the clearance bins when strains of “White Christmas” started piping into stores. Maybe Advent accidentally got thrown in with that old Halloween merchandise. Maybe the lament of those waiting for the redeeming King got lost in the din of a Burl Ives-infused “Holly Jolly Christmas.”
This isn’t about a humbug attitude over holiday cheer. It IS about working ourselves up into a joyful lather weeks ahead of schedule, while forgetting the reason for celebration. The joy in celebrating the Savior requires an understanding that we need saving in the first place. In case you don’t know, life isn’t one big snow globe of happiness. It is fraught with heartache and misery and strife – all manufactured by our own sin.
Efforts to illustrate this with a dandy piece of Advent art were quickly halted by a wasteland devoid of examples. Sure, there are plenty of violet-tinged pieces, but most have a star, or the Holy family, or magi on the road. There is little contrition in those images
“By the Rivers of Babylon” Gebhard Fugel. 1920.
(Galerie Fähre, Germany)
Perhaps it’s a stretch, but an Advent thread surely runs through the Babylonian captivity. Gebhard Fugel’s “By the Rivers of Babylon” hits close to the mark. His image shows people on the verge of losing all hope. It is hard to look at because we don’t want to identify with them – especially with Bing Crosby crooning in the background and magical snowflakes drifting by our windows.
The Babylonian captives were a pretty messed-up bunch looking forward to the Lord’s deliverance. It took the heavy hand of the Lord to wipe them clean of pride and dissuade them from running after foreign gods, but eventually they got the point. And they waited. And hoped. And waited. These are "The people that in darkness sat."
One wonders if a chord was struck much later among the Jews, when Christ mentioned the “distant land” where a prodigal wasted his inheritance. One wonders if either account strikes a chord with us today.
The immeasurable joy of Christmas comes when we remember the God who descended from His royal throne and into a cesspool of humankind – all to save us from ourselves and our deserved sentence of death.
Christmas will not sustain you if you think you can sustain yourself apart from the Savior. If, however, you are down-trodden and miserable and tired and hurting and hoping, then the arrival of the Savior – even in the form of a fragile infant – is reason indeed to hope, and reason for celebration.