The Christmas season, and especially the time of preparation with which it begins and which is called “advent,” tend to be times for nostalgia and sentiment. As good church folk, we focus on the baby born in a manger many years ago. We sing of silent, holy nights and Bethlehem and the wanderings of three sages … long ago. Too easily we get stuck in the rut of replicating our fond holiday memories only.
But advent is also (or, even more) about expecting. The story of long ago is important but it is not complete, not simply a memory of what was. Advent is also about what God is doing now and what God may do in the future, our future. It is about surprises and hopes and new beginnings.
In advent, God is coming to us in new ways, again and again. God appears in flesh, in history, in rustic barns and dirty alleys and under bridges. God appears in the face of an unwed, pregnant teenager and in her child. God appears in a man who faces scandal by not breaking his betrothal and raising her child as his own. God appears in one who harbors the strangers, who provides warm shelter on snowy, bitter nights.
Just so, God appears now, before us, in those who pass our closed doors, for whom the strain of carols from our worship is unsettling rather than inviting. For our songs remind them of places they once loved but where they are no longer welcome, of communities who were not brave enough to open hearts and minds, to throw off prejudice and to live into a promising but possibly jarring new future in which God is allowed to do something new, to make more room, to be born again among us.
This advent, will you open your doors? Will you sing a new song? Will you seek the lonely stranger and embrace her? Will you live in expectation of a surprise that God has promised and be changed?