Peace Beyond The Season
For those who know me, it is no secret that I love the entire Christmas and Advent season. I have been told by several people that they have never met anyone who loves this season more than I do. During this season, I am constantly tagged in posts and memes (usually with Will Ferrell in his costume from Elf screaming about how awesome Christmas is), and always with a caption from my family or friends saying, “Saw this and immediately thought of you!” or something along those lines. Truth be told, I like being known as a Christmas fanatic. I wear that title like a badge of honor. I always have, and hope I always will.
I’ve often referred to this season as my ultimate anti-depressant. It really gives me something to look forward to at the start of every year. During the Advent and Christmas season, I experience joy, hope, and peace everyday. My reasoning for this has nothing to do with the commercialism of the holiday. I certainly love the beauty of a Christmas tree, the dancing lights that seem to be everywhere I go. I love the feel-good movies that always have a happy ending. I absolutely love gifting the people I cherish with something I know will brighten up their day. These are certainly all things that I look forward to when this season arrives, but they are not what makes the season so important to me.
The spirit of this season that seems infectious to everyone I encounter is what matters so much to me this time of year. The fact that I feel hope, peace, joy, and love in my heart, and I seem to receive it from everyone I meet is what matters so much to me this time of year. During Advent, we anticipate the coming of God by waiting with hope, peace, joy, and love. We do not only hope that God is going to come to us and do amazing things, we expect that he will. Even in our darkest hour, we still dare to hope that God is who he says he is, and he will do what he says he will do. This seems to be an attitude we ought to have all year long, but it is especially evident in this season of perpetual hope.
The fourth Sunday of Advent this year was even more special than usual in that it fell on Christmas Eve. What better Sunday to ask God to come to us like he has promised, and to love us like he has promised than Christmas Eve? It was a Sunday filled with love and laughter as we lit candles, sang, and celebrated the coming birth of a baby refugee born in a stable. We lit the Advent candle that represented love in the morning, and lit the Christ candle in the evening. It truly was a beautiful experience.
But as of January 5th, the twelve days of Christmas will be over for this year. The decorations will come down, the last of us will drag ourselves back into work, and the overwhelming feelings of comfort and joy will almost disappear overnight. I’ve seen it happen year after year. I’ve been guilty of being a part of it year after year. When we no longer have the dancing lights, the gift-wrapped parcels, the porcelain nativity scenes to hide behind---the spirit of the season seems more like a dream than reality. Are we not called to love the poor, the widow, and the orphan? Is that call not for the entirety of our year, and not just during the holiday season? Does our song of peace on earth and goodwill toward men end when the final box of Christmas decorations has been put back in storage?
We must not only choose to follow the call to love our fellow man when we are standing around a Christmas tree. It does not take the flame of an Advent candle to give us the ability to love and serve. Peace on earth is not meant to be a short-lived fantasy in the holiday hustle and bustle. If we only seek to follow our call to love the poor, widow, and orphan under the mask of the Christmas season, then our offense to the character of God is rank; our motives are tainted, and even our acts of righteousness are defiled.
I’ve recently been studying the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The link to the full declaration can be found here: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/ But tonight, I am going to focus on three of the thirty articles.
The first article I’m focusing on is Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
The second article of focus is Article 25: (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
The third and final article of focus here is Article 30: Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.
The three articles I have highlighted here have something in common: none of them specify that these rights apply to any specific ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, social class, or income bracket. These articles do not specify that there is any specific group that deserves a spirit of brotherhood; they do not specify that there is any specific group that deserves a standard of living; they do not specify that only those born and raised in America are given the rights within the declaration. It is the universal declaration of human rights, and it is just as the name says it is: universal.
As much as I love the Christmas and Advent season, I can’t help but to see the irony and hypocrisy that surrounds it. For example, I can’t count how many nativity scene decorations I saw this year. In the same country where we can’t wait to show off how welcoming we are of Baby Jesus, we also loudly proclaim how anti-refugee we are. Outside of the holiday season, we go out of our way to show that we are not in the “hand out” business. Social media is filled with people who can’t wait to brag about the shoebox they stuffed with gifts or how they fulfilled the wish of someone on an Angel tree, but in our real lives, we scoff when we see the homeless asking for money on the street and look for some reason to blame their homelessness on themselves. We walk in the church doors and loudly sing songs about hope, peace, joy and love; and then we return to the streets and specify that the things we just sang about should only go to those who help themselves. We refuse to give money to the man who just approached us outside of the gas station because “who knows what they’ll spend it on?”
We come into church and hear the call to care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan. We shout “Amen!” to that call. We may even add an extra touch of asking God to send us. But when it comes down to it, we only want to care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan when we feel they deserve it.
We see the universal declaration of human rights and try to pick and choose which circumstances they are really universal in.
We hear the word of the Lord and try to pick and choose which circumstances it is really true in.
So, what? Do we bow our heads in despair and surrender to the darkness?
No. Absolutely not. Because God has come to break into the darkness. Because God has come to cast away the chains that bind us. Because God is love, and he overcomes hate. Because God is light, and darkness cannot drive him out.
We celebrate hope, peace, joy, and love during Advent because we know what God has done, and we expect him to continue to do what God does. A wise mentor of mine recently said, “Deliverance came to Israel. Deliverance will come to us. That is good news.” We know who God is, and we are able to look at the way the world is today and still have the audacity to hope in peace on earth and goodwill for all men, all the time.
But this also means that we have to recognize that God is going to be God whether we, or anyone else, deserves it. We must recognize that God’s grace is not limited, and it is not going to run out. We cannot live as if it will. We must recognize the universal human rights to be exactly what they are - universal.
As the Christmas season is nearing its end, may you finish this season strong. May you remember that peace on earth and goodwill toward men are not mere wishes that float off and are to be ignored. May you remember that the Kingdom of God is already at hand, and God’s kingdom cannot be overthrown by the powers of this world.
Grace and peace be with you all.