I had to admit something important to myself this year: I love Christmas.
I know, I know, that seems crazy, but I really do.
I have never been one of those people who plays Christmas music in March or has Christmas decorations they leave up all year, and normally I have a little bit of dread going into the holidays…
…but when it gets here, it is magical and I love it.
As my kids get older, it gets even more magical. We have built traditions and rituals over the year that I cannot wait until we get to do. We look at Christmas light (a tradition which started because my daughter would scream “Frozen fwactals all awound!” anytime she saw blue lights), we have certain foods we only eat at Christmas, we make ornaments, we go see Santa, and we read particular books and watch certain movies. It is beautiful.
The movies and books are a big part of the magic for me too. There is an overall, magical feel during Christmas if you let yourself get swept up in the story.
At Christmas, I get captured by the stories that are told, the stories we live into, and the stories we are creating.
I mentioned a few weeks ago, my family is also doing a Jessie tree. And while Advent has turned into a Griswold family affair at my house, I love going back through the story. Every time I look at our almost completed (albeit crooked) tree, I am in awe of that story too.
Every Advent, as I re-read the stories, the tension gets palpable. I can’t wait for Jesus to get here. But the Jessie tree reminds us, Jesus doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Jesus is the culmination of a larger story.
At the incarnation, it is almost as if we hear God say, “If you haven’t figured it out, here’s the most beautiful look yet. Here is the Story in all its fullness.”
Yet I have found Advent increasingly difficult to write about this year.
At a time when I should be reflecting on the love-fueled Story of God coming near, there are other narratives vying for my attention.
The shootings, the politics, the intergroup conflict, the violence, and what often seems like despair is telling a very loud story in our world today.
And these stories have a fuel to them as well: Fear. Alongside the Story of Advent, we have a very loud narrative of fear in our world. Which is fascinating, because these two stories are actually fundamentally opposed to each other.
In many ways, 1 John may be the most important book in the Bible.
1 John tells us what love looks like and what God looks like. We can say that love drives the Story of Scripture, but love gets defined so many different ways, to say such a thing almost means nothing.
…unless we have a really good understanding of what looks like.
1 John tells us if you want to know what love looks like, and if you want to know what the fullness of God looks like, look at Jesus on the cross.
All of what it means for God to be God and all of what we means when we say “Love drives the Story” is defined by Jesus on the cross.
The God of the Universe gives up all power and rights and control to become a vulnerable baby who will one day give his life for the sake of those who could not be more “other.”
And then John tucks in this little line: Perfect love drives out fear.
Fear and love cannot coexist.
Our automatic response when thinking about the opposite of love would probably be hate, but John says the opposite of love is fear. Because fear is the driving force behind hate.
As Christians, we are supposed to be people who are defined by self-sacrificial love, not by fear.
Yet when I watch the news, scan the headlines, open any form of social media, most of what I see is fear.
Fear’s primary concern is self-protection. What can I do to take care of me and mine? On the cross Jesus gives away his life (!) for the sake of others.
Fear separates from those who are different. On the cross, Jesus does the work of reconciling all people together, where differences are recognized, acknowledged, valued, and a part of one new humanity.
When we are driven by fear, we are only looking out for ourselves. Anything different becomes a threat. And we are only willing to look at the world through the lens of how it benefits us. If other people are hurting or suffering, I can ignore it because it doesn’t affect me. If the system benefits me, I don’t have to ask hard questions about who it is disadvantaging. I am only interested in the things that keep me protected, safe, and comfortable.
These are the narratives of fear. Get rid of those who are different. Slander those who don’t look or act or think like you. Ignore the problems of other people if they don’t directly affect you, and definitely take no concern if it will cost you something.
Yet love stands in direct opposition to this narrative. Love is concerned for the whole. Love compromises and sacrifices so the collective can be better. The Story of Advent calls us beyond fear into something greater.
Advent requires us to ask the question: What Story are we living into?
And if you aren’t sure, ask yourself the question: What is driving your story? Is it fear and self-protection? Or is concern and a willingness to give up your rights and power for the sake of a better Story for all?
Advent asks us to be swept up by the Story. Advent wants us to be captured by the stories that have been told and invites us to continue to tell new stories, fueled by the love of God.