Rushing to make my connecting flight in the Atlanta airport, I focused my energies on working my way around and between slow-moving fellow travelers. Snatches of conversation, the mayor’s recorded welcome-to-Atlanta message, and the boarding announcements from each gate I passed combined to drown out my thoughts.
No wonder it took me so long to notice the holiday music streaming over the PA system. And I do mean holiday music. We weren’t treated to hymns but to tunes from popular culture that generally have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.
You know the sort of song I mean. “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus.” “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree.” The oldie that finally caught my attention was “It’s Starting to Feel a Lot Like Christmas.”
Stores, television, radio, and the internet play songs and share memes and run ads designed to prepare us for Christmas. Only, they’re not preparing us for Christmas as I understand it. They are preparing us for a season of spending and consuming. For the Holiday Season.
Joy got an email from Talbot’s that underscores my point. The subject line read: Holiday Dreams Are Made of These. And what should we be dreaming of? Cashmere sweaters. 30% off.
I’m really okay with that being a holiday dream. There’s nothing wrong with wanting nice stuff. And getting what you’ve wanted can be satisfying, at least briefly. The same goes for giving things. But if our dreams consist only of clothes and jewelry and cars, we’re aiming awfully low.
In contrast to the Holidays, Christmas is about a very different kind of dream. God’s dream for us. Our deepest dream. Our life-giving hope. The hope that what seems like a nightmare for so many will give way to God’s reign of love. Give way to the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
In the Kingdom of God, every child is loved. No one goes hungry. No one has to flee from violence. No one suffers want or deprivation, exploitation or oppression. In Jesus, the Kingdom has drawn near.
The season of Advent prepares us to embrace that dream—that hope—with our whole being. To yield to it without reservation. And, crucially, Jesus urges us to take up this hope not by encouraging us to dream about a perfect world that doesn’t exist. Instead, he confronts us with the world we actually inhabit.
He predicts human violence and natural disaster. He says that people will swoon from fright. Some will tumble into despair. Others will indulge in escapism. (Luke 21:6-36) In other words, things will continue as we have already known them to be. People suffer. Times get hard. Catastrophe and tragedy litter the planet.
And there, in the midst of what seems like a nightmare, Jesus says we will see the sign that God has already begun God’s very best work. “Redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28b)
Dare to hope.
But hope is not passive. We do not sit on our hands and wait for God to make everything better. Hope is something we do. Against all odds we resist the forces of hate and greed and fear and prejudice that would be our undoing.
Sometimes, our resistance seems ever so small. Joy and I witnessed hope the day following my return from the trip that took me through Atlanta. We visited a nearby community in the grips of desperate poverty.
Weathered houses, dilapidated trailers, and decaying RVs line the narrow streets. Roofs leak. In spots floors have given way. Some dwellings have no running water. There are no bus stops and many residents must go by foot. The only place to buy groceries is an overpriced convenience store with bars on doors and windows.
In the midst of this bone-crushing poverty, we spotted a single-wide mobile home with a makeshift stoop. Perched on that stoop was an battered, lopsided Frosty the Snowman.
At the sight of Frosty, I sensed a hope that could not be extinguished. In a humble decoration I heard another human being cry, “I believe that there is more than this. These circumstances will not crush me, and they certainly will not determine my children’s future.”
That kind of resistance, that kind of hope, does not arise merely from inner personal resolve. This is heaven-infused grit. God is at work in this person, whether she realizes it or not. In the simple act of putting Frosty out on her stoop, she has gotten busy joining God in turning this world upside down.
Her act of resistance is more than a holiday dream. More than a mere yearning for a new sweater or snazzier pair of sneakers.
It’s Christmas hope. A willingness to commit ourselves to the long road toward peace and justice. To join God in shaking things up, even when what we can offer at the moment seems ever so small.