Sunday my parents took our family to go on the Polar Express. I have a 5-year-old and a 2.5 year old. For them, it was pure magic.
Santa actually boarded the train and came to the table to talk to each kid. When my 2.5 year old figured out Santa was coming, the look on her face was priceless. Her eyes widened, her smile stretched across her face and she kept screaming: He coming! Santa Cwaus! I see him!
When we had our first child we had decided not to play up the Santa Claus thing. We didn’t want to avoid talking about Santa, but wanted to avoid the whole real/not real conversation.
Our son would have none of it.
He was going to believe in Santa and we were going to like it. And I am so glad he did.
There is something about the wonder, awe, and innocence of a child when it comes to Santa Claus. And there is nothing like watching a child who experiences the world as magical and amazing and searches for the wonders just underneath the surface.
I love seeing this in my children’s eyes, and hearing them talk about how new and wondrous the world is to them.
This belief in the magical nature of the world is something you see this in a lot of the children’s Christmas movies. Christmas movies encourage children to “believe” and often this belief contributes to and expands the reach of the magic of the world. At this time of year “believe” is a positive word and we see books and movies and television all trying to capture the awe and wonder in the world and the magic lying just beneath the surface.
When kids see this magic and believe, it comes out as pure joy.
But as adults we have been trained to think that the world is harsh and ugly and set against us. We know that belief in something is for weak people and that there is no real magic in the world. We know better, we are more enlightened, and the world is harsh and brutal. Wonder and awe is written off as naiveté.
I think what Christmas movies are trying to capture is actually the same thing Advent tries to capture.
I have written before the difference between “belief” and “faith” but what Christmas movies point to is what true faith looks like. Faith is putting your trust in a person. In Advent, we are reminded what trust in Christ means.
Trust in Christ means knowing that there is more to human existence than the harsh realities we see day in and day out. And while we don’t use the world “magical” very often, Advent is a reminder that the world is miraculous. God has intentions for the world. God made the world good. Advent is a reminder that God is at work and moving just below the surface. We call this: HOPE.
Hope is seeing the world with new lenses: It is recapturing the child-like wonder and awe in a difficult world. It is assurance that everything will be made right, and we are going to be okay.
When we encounter God in those miraculous moments, when we allow ourselves to be grateful and see the world through new lenses of awe and wonder, we experience JOY. Joy is the reaction when we encounter the miraculous nature of God at work in the world face to face. We celebrate. We wonder, we are captivated by awe and amazement.
But we don’t always see the miraculous nature of the world face to face.
Advent does not stay away from the harsh realities of the world. In fact, Advent enters into them. Christ is born into a harsh and brutal world where children are slaughtered within days of his arrival. There is no glossing over the dark realities of life. But Advent brings something new into them.
At Church last week I was reminded of this quote from Anne Lamott: Peace is joy at rest, and joy is peace on its feet.
When we view the world through the “magical” lens of hope, it changes how we are in the world. When we hope, we may not always feel like jumping up and down. But we can be at PEACE. We can be assured the awfulness of real life does not have the last word. Peace and joy are inner dispositions because of our faith and hope in Jesus.
Then, when we truly have these internal dispositions of joy and peace, we express them and share them with the world. Our faith, hope, peace, and joy contribute to and expand the Kingdom of God. This takes on the form of LOVE.
Just like the Santa movies, Advent reminds us how our faith in Christ reveals the miraculous work of God just below the surface, reorients us and helps us see the world with new eyes, and motivates us to help spread this beautifully Good News.
But this week we focus on joy.
Joy requires us to have a hopeful lens on the world. Because if we aren’t looking for hope to break through, we will miss it and have nothing to rejoice about. Joy requires child-like wonder and awe. As adults, we cultivate this through gratitude. We notice where God does amazing things (even if it is the simple fact that I am breathing right now) and we celebrate them.
Peace allows us to make it through the difficult times. Joy is what we do when we encounter the resurrected Christ face to face. It is the celebration of hope being made real. It expressing our wonder and awe when we found out our peace is not unfounded.
Joy is about celebration. But to celebrate, we need to see the world through joyful lenses. To experience joy, we watch and we wait for God to show up.
And when God shows up we get on our feet and celebrate: He’s coming! Jesus! I see him!