We push back from our Thanksgiving feasts full and overfull, and suddenly “Christmas” is upon us. The season is FULL and overfull of parties and preparations and programs and presents and… Life is busy for sure but is it really full? These words from John 1 come to mind, “And now out of his fullness we are fulfilled! And from Him we receive grace heaped upon more grace!” (John 1:16 TPT)
I am grateful to be part of a theological tradition that doesn’t race into Christmas but allows some time for leaning into prophetic longing. O come, O come Emmanuel! Advent helps me grab hold of “fullness” by allowing and in some ways forcing me to acknowledge that there is still much emptiness. There are situations in which I am still crying out for Emmanuel to come. There are unfulfilled desires, my own and others. There is loss and pain and longing. It is not by accident that Advent comes in the bleak midwinter when the physical landscape looks dead and anything but hopeful.
In these days the Holy Spirit reminds me of a 13 year- old girl who stood before a congregation in Triangle, Virginia and answered, “Yes, with the help of God.” That’s the answer. What was the question? Ah, profound and powerful 47 years ago and even more powerful for me now, “Do you renounce the devil and all his EMPTY promises?” As I lean into longing, as I pray O come, O come Emmanuel, I must recognize the emptiness of some of the busy-ness of my life. I acknowledge where I have bought the enemy’s empty promises of fullness and renounce them yet again. I pray with Christian author Jill Briscoe, “Busy us with kingdom things. Give the dream you gave us wings.”
Into the bleak midwinter, into the longing and emptiness comes the Word!
During this Advent season I have been encouraged by the promises of Isaiah, the majesty of the Messiah (I did a Messiah sing-along for my birthday) but I have been captured by John 1. Indeed, hardly a day goes by that I don’t read it and like Mary, “ponder it in my heart.” (in my heart because I am an enneagram 4).
There are a few verses in this profound theological treatise on the incarnation that hunt me down, haunt me, and, I hope, hallow me. Harry Potter had his deathly hallows but WE have, “In Him was life…(the editor or Bible commentator in me wants to say the past tense verb here means it is a done deal but still true for you and me.)
However, it is not this particular Lifely Hallow that has captured me during this last week of Advent. I keep coming back to “His own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him…” (John 1:11-12) As I read and re-read these verses I sense the Holy Spirit’s insistent tapping on my shoulder. I hear the whisper, “Make room.” I am forced to deal with the reality that ‘receiving Jesus’ is not a once in a lifetime thing but a daily process of making room for Him and His purposes. The Lord wants to deal with the myriad reasons I don’t receive Him, the ways in which I don’t make room. Because of disappointment and pain and shame and God knows what else (literally), I hold him at arm’s length. Because I am afraid of what may have to go in order for me to receive Him in that O little town of Bethlehem –“where meek souls will receive Him still; the dear Christ enters in” kind of way, I stay busy. I pray my little prayers. I even read my Bible, but I don’t really live expectantly. I read Gabriel’s words to Mary from Luke 1 “Nothing is impossible with God” and I believe them on some level, but I am not really making room for miracles on 34th street or anywhere else right now.
Ah, but Jesus here I am leaning into the last part of a promise made long ago by a 13 year- old girl-“with the help of God.” You are true to your promises Jesus! Christmas proves that! So here I am saying,”Help me Jesus to receive the fullness that only You can bring.”
“Yet to all who did receive Him, He gave the right to become children of God.” So dear children, may He “make these days of childhood more hallowed by His birth.”