What are your family Christmas get-togethers like? For some people, they’re the most anticipated event of the year, full of traditions, giving, and joy. For others, Christmas is a season that brings anxiety, stress, and awkward interactions with lots of tap-dancing around conversational landmines. And for some, it’s a season of heavy grief, as they grapple with loneliness or loss. But whatever type of emotion you associate with Christmas and family gatherings, I think Christmas should also point us to a totally different kind of feast. A feast that sounds too good to be true, like something from a fairy tale, but that is real, and even better than fiction.
Advent means “entrance” or “introduction,” and begins a new chapter in the broader Story, of course, with the King’s humble arrival as a baby, born in a stable. We focus a ton on the beginning, and for good reason since it’s a mind-blowing story. We connect the dots with Easter, and recognize that this baby King came on a mission to die and redeem. But that’s not the end of the Story. And when we forget about the end, we miss some of the power in the earlier chapters.
Toward the end of the Story is a legendary feast, an epic gathering for the ages. “On this mountain, the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.” (Isaiah 25:6) Maybe you’re thinking “hold up – the Christmas spread that we feast on at my Grandma’s house is pretty legendary in its own right!” But there’s a lot more to this feast in Isaiah than a baked ham, a strong dessert line-up, and that bottle of wine you’re saving for a special occasion.
This feast is more than a meal; it’s a celebration, and there will be no shortage of things to celebrate. The Lord “will swallow up death forever” and “will wipe away the tears from all faces.” He “will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:8). When we feel overwhelmed, or crushed under the weight of grief and disappointment, this is what we cry out for: no more tears, and no more pain.
Can you imagine what your Christmas gatherings would be like if there were no more pain, no more anxiety, no more bitter judgment or insecurity?
This gathering is also described as a feast “for all peoples.” Some of the best parties I’ve been to had people from lots of different countries and backgrounds, each bringing their own cuisine, culture, and dance moves. Can you imagine a party table with food from every nation and tribe? The beautiful part of the diversity is that all of the barriers that divide us today will be gone. After death is swallowed up and the tears are wiped away, we can celebrate together, unhindered by the baggage of bias that we all carry, whether we realize it or not.
In a way, our views of Thanksgiving speak to this desire for unity, as we like to celebrate a folkloric fiesta, where the European pilgrims and Native Americans set aside any differences for the feast. But imagine a feast that is not just a temporary pause on prejudice, but a feast where together we celebrate that death, sin, and brokenness are no more.
We say that Christmas is a season of peace, joy, and hope. Yet we rarely link Christmas to this time of joy and feast of peace that Isaiah describes. Christmas jump-starts the march to this feast, albeit in a surprising way. Far from the fanfare fit for a King, a scared teenage couple held a baby who would one day complete the Story. That’s why Advent is the entrance of hope, and why Christmas points to a feast that’s beyond what we can even imagine.