People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained. Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation. To be entertained is a passive state—it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle . . . Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one’s actions.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel
1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
4 Blessed is the man who makes
the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
to those who go astray after a lie!
5 You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
yet they are more than can be told.
9 I have told the glad news of deliverance
in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
from the great congregation.
Well, it’s December 28 (and a Monday, no less). Now what? A few days ago, we celebrated Christmas in one fiery flash. If you’re like me, you may light a few candles, open some presents, and eat until you’re past full.
The guests have come and likely gone. The next “big thing” to look forward to is New Year’s, which is inevitably a cocktail of overblown expectations, more sequins than the ‘80s, and resolutions that will almost certainly be broken in the first three days.
Advent is over and we’ve finished our four weeks of waiting. There have been moments of quiet and stillness, calling on Emmanuel to come and redeem the world. Our eyes have been opened to places of sadness, but not without hope. There have been small whispers that Christ is coming.
There is something about the season of Advent—the longing, the expectation, the tinge of sorrow around it. Call me crazy, but we may be more naturally bent toward this sense of sadness and anticipation than we are toward joyful celebration. It’s akin to the whole phenomenon of praying hard when things get really difficult and sloughing it off when everything is smooth sailing. When our need presses in, we know that God is all we have.
For me, choosing joy can sometimes be harder. After all, the tension of Advent has its place and is resonant for a reason. But we are called into joy during these 12 days of Christmas. We waited for weeks, and now that Jesus is here, are we just over it? Was one day enough to revel in the mystery of the incarnation—in the knowledge that Jesus spent 30 years of ordinary days as fully god, fully man?
We’re past the season of quiet whispers now. We’ve got a crowd of shepherds, singing angels, and a stable full of animals proclaiming that Jesus—God made flesh to dwell with us—IS HERE. Now that we’re in the season of Christmas, we’re being asked to see not just where God could be but where he is—where he is already showing up.
David helps us strike this balance well, I think. When I think of the Psalms, I often think more Adventy thoughts: angst, waiting, crying out, questioning. David, no stranger to difficulty and pain, also knows how to throw a party when God makes himself known.
Look at Psalm 40: David has been waiting and crying out and God listened. There’s a miracle there. The God of the universe has heard our crying and come to us. David can’t stop talking about it. He’s singing songs, he’s blabbing in church. He values the joy of walking with God as much as he values patient waiting.
What would it look like for us to discipline ourselves similarly? To have eyes ready to see where God is showing up. To run out and tell our friends about it. To burst with proclamation of God’s great love and faithfulness.
Christmas is an excellent season to begin that practice. The liturgical season lasts 12 days, until Epiphany on January 6. Until then, let’s make a point to claim the joy of Jesus’ birth and draw it close to ourselves. Let’s show up to our own lives with the intent to party. Let’s ask Him to cause us to bubble up and spill over with the good work He is doing, even now.
Take it with you: Where is one place God has shown up over the last week in your own life? In the season of Advent? In the last year? What is one way to celebrate that?