“Best. Christmas. Ever”.
So ran a supermarket advertising campaign last year.
Every year on Christmas afternoon, I feel a bit deflated. Yes, it’s probably 99% tiredness after the energy and emotion poured into Christmas in the parish. But there is also a part of me, every year, that thinks “Is this it?”
Is this it?
For all the hype and the build up and the long hours spent wrapping presents and preparing food and looking forward to – Christmas feels a little bit like ‘blink and you’ll miss it’. Have I ever enjoyed the elusive “Best. Christmas. Ever”? No.
The church makes a big deal of Advent – a time of waiting and preparation. What we don’t do quite so well is remind ourselves that, for all our preparations, Christmas Day actually isn’t it. However patient our waiting, however sincere our choruses of “O Come O Come”, if our focus is on how the big day works out, then our waiting will feel frustrated.
One of my favourite quotes is from John Paul II:
Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people, and hallelujah is our song.
Through Advent this year, something within me has wanted to turn this inside out a little:
Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Advent people, and our waiting will go on.
Watchful, faithful, active waiting.
We are called, as God’s people, to watch for signs of the Divine Kingdom: to look for glimmers of hope and light and life and love – and to bring these glimmers out of darkness and let them shine brightly.
We are called, as God’s people, to stay faithful: to hold on to God’s promises, no matter how unfaithful we feel we may be, and to have confidence to begin again, and again.
We are called, as God’s people, to be active in our waiting. When we see places and meet people who are in desperate need of justice and compassion, our watchful waiting must become active: we are called to be agents of change and justice in the unfairness of life around us.
We are called. And we are called together. As one. As the Advent people.
I know I will feel a sense of deflation this year, as Christmas Day passes as fast as any other day, as the preparations cease and as my Advent busyness is replaced by Boxing Day emptiness. It’s ok to feel deflated.
But I hope I might remember, too, that one day was never going to fulfill the emptiness within me: the yearning for something more, something better.
The hope and joy shaped holes with me will never be filled by Christmas Day. Not even the “Best. Christmas. Ever.”
Filling these gaps takes longer. But they are being filled, ever so slowly, by the hope of a promise.
The promise of a God who is still at work to redeem this world, and who invites us to join in.
The promise of a homecoming that we are yet to make.
And the promise of a life, which begins now and never ends, in which we will find peace, and love, and wellbeing.
If Christmas 2017 was your “best Christmas ever”, then my commiserations for this year and every year following. But I believe – and I dare to hope – that for all of us, the best is yet to come.
And in the meantime:
We are the Advent people, and our waiting will go on!