The Advent season is one of dichotomy.
In the Northern Hemisphere, at least, we experience less daylight than any other time of year these months, making Christmas lights most brilliant. The weather itself is also coldest during this time, making fires and the warmth of friends and family all the more precious.
Something about the end of the year also elicits introspection. Anticipation for Christmas Day builds up. There’s expectation. Then, on December 26th –– and 27th and 28th, and so on –– there are questions. Did I give enough? Did I love enough? Did I accomplish enough? And, perhaps, am I lovable enough?
During Advent, we spend increased time with friends and family, and we see them more clearly, whether in flaw or flourish, feat or fall. This season challenges us. It shines light on darkness. And it makes us all the more aware of our desire for something greater than a present, or the present.
The dichotomy of Advent highlights our tendency to get excited over a new shirt, or watch, or toy, before feeling the inescapable letdown of 2 p.m. on Christmas Day, or December 26th, or 27th. In these moments, we innately know that the gifts we just received are only a shadow; the moment we just experienced is but a glimmer.
Thank God, there’s a flip side. This is Advent, and during Advent, there is light.
We see this in Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming Messiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone” (Isaiah 9:2).
Rather than dwelling on the dimness of our situations –– our family dynamics, or the insufficiency of the gifts we unwrapped, or the cold, dark season –– we are to behold the light. If we are instructed in Advent at all, we will learn that darkness and winter will soon pass and light will come. We don’t have to fear the bleakness we face. Instead, during Advent, we behold. We turn our eyes up, to where our help comes from (Psalm 121).
Our hope, very simply, is Jesus, the great Light. He alone can deliver us from loneliness, darkness, bleakness, guilt, and unmet expectations.
Indeed, at Christmas, the message for us should be the one which was also given to Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus: “Fear not… Behold!”
“In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.’
And Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’ And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.’ And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, ‘Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.’
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’
And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’
And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”'And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.”’ (Luke 1:5-38)