This week, Christians around the world find themselves in the final countdown to Christmas. The last candle on the Advent wreath is lit and we’re nearing the end of our pop-up Advent calendars.
If we haven’t finished decorating, gift buying, and Christmas baking, we’re in the middle of it – panicked with last minute to-do lists. If we haven’t readied our home for guests, we’re in the midst of that as well. In short, this can be one of the most hectic weeks of Advent, when we need most of all to slow down and reflect on what it means to await the coming of the Christ child into our world and into our lives.
Last weekend I attended a Christmas concert at Washington National Cathedral. I had recently returned from my third trip to Cameroon, West Africa, this time for the Opening Ceremony of Good Shepherd Academy, a residential secondary school for 350 coed students. As a result, I couldn’t help but hear the voices of my Cameroonian sisters and brothers in the carols, moving me from the magnificent Cathedral setting to the grim reality of life in a developing nation.
And I couldn’t help but wonder, what does it mean that once again we await the birth of Jesus filled with the expectation and hope of a new tomorrow? What does it mean that once again we, like they, long for new beginnings and new life?
Psalm 80 tells us that people have been fed with the bread of tears and given bowls of tears to drink. How true that is, especially of our sisters and brothers who live in developing nations or nations at war – Cameroon, Syria and so many more. Sisters and brothers who long for a bed of their own, a safe place to spend the night, a safe walk to school, or even a school to attend. How easy it is for us to take the very things for granted that would mean new life, new beginnings to our neighbors.
And yet in the midst of it all new beginnings do spring forth, you just have to look for them – whether through the foundation I chair, Good Shepherd SLF which just opened the Cameroonian secondary school; or through Safe Haven in Pike County, PA; Rotary Club International, UNICEF, Covenant House, and more.
How do these miracles occur? Speaking for myself, the Cameroonian school was born for one reason only – over 2,000 years ago an angel’s words became reality. “‘Look the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’, which means ‘God is with us.’”
God was, God is, and God ever more shall be with us. The miracle, the birth of the One we await is nothing less than the miracle of God who comes to earth as a tiny, vulnerable infant to show us how to be in relation to one another. To show us what it means to be sisters and brothers with those whom we may never see, but who are intimately part of us nonetheless. We must care, we must act, we must reach out our hands in love, for that is the only way forward for our world, and it is the only way forward for us.
Where do you find yourself in this final countdown to Christmas? Are you where I often am, so caught up in the 24-hour news cycle, the relentless advertisements, the unrealistic expectations of the season that you can’t see your way past Christmas morning? If so, I invite you to take even a few minutes this week to do your own reflecting.
What is this season all about? What does it mean that once again we await the birth of Jesus, filled with the expectation and hope of a new tomorrow? How are you meant to follow the One whose birth we await, right now, in this time, in this place?