The Advent and Christmas seasons are emotionally impactful for me, even more than Lent and Easter.
How can this be? Lent prepares us for Christ’s Passion and on Easter we celebrate his Resurrection. It is when we celebrate how he conquered sin and death, redeemed creation, and proved his divinity. Christ’s Passion and Resurrection inspire me to give the entirety of myself to him. I anxiously anticipate this season every year, but with joy and a smile. It is as if I am preparing to go to the World Series or the Super Bowl.
Advent, however, brings tears to my eyes. I find myself sobbing when I hear hymns about the coming of the Savior. I tremble when I contemplate kneeling before the infant Jesus in the manger. Why? What is this feeling?
In one word: relief.
Perhaps the greatest argument for the faith is to simply look at the world around us. Misery and death are everywhere. It seems endless. The things in this world that give us joy are destined to come to an end, they are only temporary. Beautiful sunsets, friends, even the World Series and Super Bowl—none of these can satisfy enough to overcome the bleakness and despair of this world. This is all a consequence of Adam’s fall. When we seek satisfaction from worldly things, we would do well to recall the preacher’s timeless words from Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities… chasing after the wind” (1:2, 14).
I think of the climax of Moby-Dick, the final stand of Captain Ahab after he leads the entire crew of the Pequod to their deaths—the result of his blasphemous quest for revenge against the White Whale. At the close of the novel, when the ship and its crew have all have disappeared into the ocean’s depths, Herman Melville closes with the perfect choice of words: “And the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years before.”
All our pursuits, whether noble or blasphemous, will be forgotten in our vast universe. There is no escaping this.
How can we make sense of this? Should we roll over and forfeit? Should we do as Nietzsche suggested—bravely assert ourselves against the universe, despite knowing that it will disappear after we are gone, and create our own meaning?
The only response is to turn to God. The God who declares himself to be “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last, the beginning and the end” (Rev 22:13). What choice do we have but to fly unto him for peace? St. Augustine answered perfectly in his Confessions, summarizing in his invocation: “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
In the years since God revealed himself to the world through Abraham, we have sought his face. How many prophets and psalmists cried out “Where are you, Lord?”
O Come, o come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here…
Do not lose hope, we are told. God has answered your prayers.
Turn to the stable: a dwelling place for animals. The Most High does not chose a noble or luxurious life for himself. He does not make himself an emperor. He enters the world in the most humiliating and least fitting place for the King of Kings. How can he possibly love us so much? How can he say “I love you” while ignoring the worst about us? He demonstrates that the hairs of all humanity’s heads are numbered (Luke 12:7). He chose to live and work and pray among the least of these.
He comes to us, not as a strongman, but vulnerable and in need. The image of him lying in the manger speaks its wonders: relief has come.
In this image God speaks to us: “You have yet to see how it shall be accomplished, but look upon this child and know that your Lord has delivered on his promises, your Lord has not forgotten your woes. He knows all suffering, whoever you are. Do not lose faith. Do not give in to despair.”
This brings to mind the words of O Holy Night:
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Til he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…
It is the uncertainty that makes this beautiful. We know he will prevail, but we do not know how. We put our trust in him like little children (Matthew 18:3). You are meaningful to him in the midst of despair.
Look upon your newborn king and see his love for you.