People are wired to understand story; our brains crave cohesiveness and narrative; they desire to connect the dots into something that makes sense. It’s why when we pick up on clues or little Easter eggs hidden throughout our favorite movies and books, it’s so satisfying when they all come together, when it all makes sense, when the thing we noticed in chapter one comes back to be important in the end. And it’s why we feel such deep dissatisfaction when stories don’t end well. It can be horribly frustrating when we feel as though the plane didn’t land just right and there are a million narrative threads that were never connected (*cough* GOT *cough*).
So, when we come around to the Story of Christmas, this messy, absurd story of the King born of a peasant virgin, it’s kind of a mixed bag. It’s an ending and a beginning; it’s the sacred and the secular; it’s the holy and the common all converging in this way that simultaneously makes no sense but also, somehow, feels like the thing that makes the most sense.
The thing that makes the most sense of a God whose table is big and wide, a God who is constantly inviting the least and the powerless. It makes sense because if Jesus is going to grow up to proclaim a whole other kingdom all together, one based on love and not power, one based on giving and not taking, a kingdom that most of the world will spend its time telling you cannot stand because no kingdom lasts without force, or power, or military strength, then this is the only story that makes sense. The only beginning that works.
Even when it doesn’t.
It doesn’t make sense because he’s the God who is born, in flesh and mess, who grew in the water of a human womb, who was brought into the world kicking, screaming and crying like the rest of us. It doesn’t make sense because it’s God encased in the most vulnerable of human flesh. It doesn’t make sense because it’s a baby, threatening enough for Herod to commit genocide.
It doesn’t make sense, but it’s the only way the story could ever have worked. It’s the only way the story, this Story, would be able to change the world; by being just shy of unbelievable, by being as ludicrous as shepherds invited to the birthday of a King.
This is why Advent is so rich, because this is the story we are leaning into, a story of waiting, and sorrow, and joy, and the unexpected; the kind of Story you have to be looking for or you just might miss it, clothed in the most ordinary and humble of settings.
Many of us at the Franciscan Spiritual Center have a particular fondness for Advent, there’s something about this season that draws us in and makes us feel at home. Perhaps it’s because so much of what we do is call people into waiting, to listening, to connect with their longing and to face those things in and around us that just are slightly out of step. We understand that this is an essential part of the story, it’s what gives power to what is on the way.
Many of us here feel at home in the waiting and the longing. In a culture that can be so quick to get to the end, the victory, the joy, the celebration, we often find ourselves robbed of the rich and painful process of what comes before. Our tradition, when we truly see it, is one that spans the spectrum of human experience which is not just made up of just births and resurrections, but of labors and deaths and perilous journeys across deserts. There is space for you if you are in that desert, if the joy of Christmas doesn’t feel quite at home just yet, if it feels as though it’s a long time coming.
So lean in. Notice, Listen. Look. Breathe in the questions and the chaos and the wondering of the season of Advent.
It’s a ridiculous story, really. But then, so many of the best stories are.