Second Sunday of Advent
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
We’ve had our first snowfall, and so the Christmas season can really begin! My neighbors’ Christmas trees are beginning to appear in their windows, and more and more colored and sparking lights are shining up and down the street. The nights are really getting long now, which gives us plenty of time to enjoy these decorative lights both in and outside our homes. These are the nights when staying in actually feels quite nice, in the warmth of our homes. A friend of mine in Germany sent me a picture of his lovely woodstove fire in his living room and indeed the whole scene was quite cosy. I actually have two Christmas trees. I always had this hankering after two Christmas trees, but never had a place for them. Okay, maybe you can’t quite call them two Christmas trees, the one in the front sitting room is really an ash twig tree, but it has got lights and I’ve hung a few baubles off the tree limbs…sounds like a Christmas tree to me.
The one in our back sitting room, or ‘sun room’ is a proper Christmas tree. Though I use the word ‘proper’ hesitantly. You see I come from the Christmas tree capital of the world, Washington State, in the Pacific Northwest. We have Christmas tree farms that spread for miles on the west side of the mountains where I grew up. And always there was a fresh cut tree for Christmas. When I was growing up on our little farm my dad would go out about two days before Christmas eve and cut a fir tree from somewhere on our twenty acres. We kids would have been scoping out trees for weeks, hoping to find just that perfect Douglas fir for our celebrations.
Well, I don’t think in the 18 Christmases I had at home we ever found the ‘perfect’ Douglas fir. But my dad was very resourceful, and so we’d find the best tree we could. Then Dad would come out and cut it down and then….tree surgery we called it. He’d get out his drill and put in extra branches where they were needed. When I got older I expressed the blasphemous idea that maybe we could go to a tree farm and get a tree – on the tree farms there were acres and acres of ‘perfect’ Christmas trees. My dad scoffed at the idea, saying they lacked ‘character’…and perhaps they did. In the end we never minded our crooked and wild shaped trees. We followed the old tradition of putting the tree up on Christmas eve, and taking it down on New Year’s day. Though I don’t think with its ‘post-op’ tree limbs the tree would have lasted much longer.
I think of these things when I put up that pariah of all objects – an artificial Christmas tree. Well, I won’t apologize, it suits our lifestyle and its very pretty and festive. But I always smile when I do, because the memories of those many trees of my childhood always come flooding back.
Christmas time is made of so many ‘traditions’ that we treasure – some personal to us, some shared with the wider community. And this is one thing we love about Christmas, it allows us to inhabit a place for however short a time, where our parents, our grandparents, our brothers and sisters and so many others all come together in our minds and hearts. And this is a good thing. But it is not the only thing and it is not the most important thing.
Because in the end, Christmas is not about ‘tradition’, the past, some lovely moment we get to enter into for a time before we return to regular life. These have become part of Christmas, and the Joy of Christmas makes these things possible. But these things are fleeting, and their importance lies in the fact that they give us a taste of what is to come – they are not the end in themselves. Christmas is not about a brief respite from the darkness, the dreariness of the winter. Christmas is about revolution, it is about all things changing, it is about the future, it is about having life and having it more abundantly, not only for a few weeks in December, but for eternity.
The Birth of our Lord made all things new, the prophesies so eloquently written in the Old Testament texts prepare us for looking ahead. The book of Revelation, with all its frightening and challenging imagery does the same. And Jesus, as recorded by the writers of the Gospels, and the Letter writers of the New Testament all tell us this over and over again. We are to look forward, we are to prepare ourselves, we are to listen to God’s Call and to respond in obedience, love and hope. Yes, Christmas is about Joy, but more importantly it is about Hope.
And so, while a ‘traditional’ Christmas will not be possible this year. Christmas as proclaimed by all God’s messengers, most especially our Lord Jesus Christ, is right on track. We, as people who pray daily for God’s Kingdom to break into this world, are called to look forward. To pray forward. To live forward. We are Eternity people, and so let us not waste one moment on regretting that some things ‘won’t be the same’ this year. Let us celebrate our Christmas by celebrating what is to come. Which is no less than a renewed earth as is so beautifully described in the Revelation of John:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying:
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” (Revelations 21.1-5)
This is our Christmas, Glory be to God.
Revd Professor Jessica Malay
Almondbury with Farnley Tyas