Every year, I rediscover how odd some of the scripture lessons for the Sundays of Advent really are.
For example, the gospel lectionary text for the First Sunday of Advent this year is Luke 21:25-36.
That is all about Jesus talking about the end times. Hardly a Christmas text. It is Advent-ey in the sense that Jesus urges us to “prepare” for such calamities, and Advent is about “preparation” for Christmas, but beyond that it is a real stretch to connect this text to the birth of Christ.
That’s no accident, though. You see, there are really two kinds of Advents. The first one is about anticipating Christmas. The second is about preparing for Christ’s return—the Second Coming. The scene that Jesus paints in the Luke passage is the apocalypse that will precede his physical return. And most progressive Christians hop off the train here.
And I see why. The end times and the Second Coming of Christ aren’t really part of our lexicon and we certainly would prefer that it not to be mixed in with Christmas. We want Christmas to be cozy and pretty. People “fainting in fear and foreboding” is NOT what we want under the tree.
And yet, if nothing else, this should be our take away: Jesus, in this text and elsewhere, says that our anxiety is a sign of our help drawing near. And there’s a vital kernel of Christmas in that outlook.
The circumstances of that first noel were not cozy and pretty. The stable where Jesus was born was cold and dark. Yet that is when and where God chose to enter our world. That’s a powerful message to us and should be a source of divine comfort.
You may know that the Chinese symbol for “crisis” is the same as the symbol for “opportunity”. That is the spirit in which we should take apocalyptic texts. That is also the spirit we should bring to the hardships of our lives. When things go off the rails, that is precisely the time to be on the lookout for God to do something dramatic—just as God did on that very first Christmas.