By Anita Peebles
I can hardly believe I am writing these words, but…I pray that you all have a wondrous Advent season. I know. Advent? Really? Already? Not yet, please!
After almost two whole years in this pandemic, I am finding that I really have lost track of time—is it the 89th week of March, 2020…or is it really nearing the first Sunday of Advent, 2021? Amidst still limiting visits with loved ones and transitions going on in my ministry context, I don’t feel ready for the upcoming holiday season. I could use a few more weeks to decorate the sanctuary and prepare a candle-lighting liturgy. And yet…here we are.
But I wonder if anyone is truly ready for Advent, no matter what year it is. And it’s not only about being ready for the shopping and the pageants and concerts that go along with this season. But are we ever truly ready to enter the mystery of Christmas, in which we greet a baby named Emmanuel, which means God-with-us? Are we ever truly ready to lean into the vulnerability of the birth pangs felt by a young woman whose hymns of praise lift up those who have been pushed to the margins of society? Are we ever truly ready to welcome the incarnation of the Holy One that demands that we keep our faith embodied so that we can respond not only intellectually or spiritually to people’s real-life experiences, but so that we respond to the actual sociopolitical forces affecting their bodies? Because Jesus, beloved Child of God, became flesh and blood to live in solidarity with humanity. That means that every time a child is detained at the border, every time someone cries out “I can’t breathe,” every time someone’s pronouns or true name are disrespected, every time someone’s bodily autonomy is threatened—Jesus is there, too.
And so followers of the Way of Jesus are called to mark this time every year, to prepare for the inbreaking of divine Love that calls us into substantial, embodied solidarity with those whose body and breath are being oppressed by the powers that be. And prepare we must, because there is much to do.
Sometimes I’m not sure I’m ready to enter into this kind of Advent, preparing to enter this kind of Christmas mystery. Vulnerability and embodiment and hospitality and accompaniment and solidarity are beautiful words…but they take deep, courageous, sustained work to be lived by people who, like it or not, are bound up in a white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal colonial system like we are in the United States of America.
That’s why Advent is important, even if I don’t feel ready for it this year. Advent is a time of preparation before we welcome the indwelling of incarnate Love. That’s why we have the liturgical calendar to help us mark time. We need a reminder every year that time, like life, like matter, like energy, is a cycle. That human systems of domination can be subverted by a little baby born in an out-of-the-way place to a vulnerable teenager. That God is always doing something new among us, calling us to bring our whole selves into the work of justice that will bring about the kin-dom that is always already on its way to us.
Friends, I wonder how you are preparing to enter the mystery of Christmas…and not only during the month of December. As Howard Thurman reminds us, the work of Christmas continues beyond the season of preparation, beyond the 25th of December, beyond epiphany, and into the rest of our days. Perhaps you will learn new skills or strengthen capacities. Perhaps you will lean into wonder and ask sacred questions that you’ve never dared to ask before. Perhaps you will challenge yourself to show up when you feel injustice stoking that aching fire in your belly, moving beyond fear and into courage as you pursue just causes. However you welcomed this season of Advent and are preparing to greet the Christmas holiday, remember that you are made of incarnate Love, created in God’s very own image, and that you can be part of God doing something new and beautiful in this world. May it be so.
Rev. Anita Peebles (she/her) serves as the Associate Pastor for Next Generation Ministries at Seattle First Baptist Church (ABC-USA). She is the co-author of the forthcoming book New Directions for Holy Questions: Progressive Christian Theology for Families (Church Publishing, 2022). Anita blogs about ministry with children and shares sermons at revanitapeebles.com.