This time of year everything is magnified. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. I see it in the size of my kids’ eyes get when they see Christmas lights. The highs get higher. The lows get lower too. This time of year, tragedy hits harder. Loneliness and loss are exponentially more painful and only made all the worse by the desire to suffer quietly so that you don’t ruin somebody else’s Christmas. Nobody likes a Grinch. Or a Scrooge. Or anyone else who is vilified for daring to feel hurt or lonely this time of year without knowing what to do about it. It’s probably got at least a little bit to do with why so many people spend their holidays trying to re-create that perfect Christmas from way back when chasing something they can’t quite recapture no matter how hard they try. Not being able to recreate it is probably why some have just given up on every tradition and doing something completely different, like a ground-up attempt to define the day as anything but what used to be, and hurts.
The highs get us caught up in the moment, but the lows only leave us looking back. We look back to some overly romanticized idea of shepherds out in their fields at night. But not real ones who say the kinds of words that anybody has ever worked with livestock tends to say and definitely can’t be repeated by kids during their Christmas programs. W imagine Mary in a stable filled with animals doing animal stuff, looking real put-together despite having just given birth. We look back with the same kind of romanticism to the stuff that we used to have. A time where we didn’t have the problems we have today. A time when things were simpler. Because today, we see the signs. Distress of nations. Fear and foreboding over what is coming in the world. I might not know all your private pains, but I see the ones on the news. I see that telltale reaction of hearts weighed down. We curl in on ourselves. We curl in on the memories of what was. We curl in to shield others from our sorrows and pains. We curl in to hide from the distress of what’s around. So our Lord speaks to us.
Lift up your heads. Straighten up. Your redemption draws near. Your Lord was born to troubles such as these. For sinners such as us. Lift up your heads. Not in pride or some sort of inner peace or strength found within by watching the right number of Christmas movies. Lift up your head and look back not just to a memory of what was in better days, but for actual help. To see something accomplished that changed everything else. Lift up your heads and see that our Lord has entered into this creation for you so that even in times such as these we might rejoice, who stand tall. He entered into an awkward family situation, to say the very least. He lived under an oppressive government, surrounded by death and decay, and sin and pain, loss and death. All of it, to actually address the things that are wrong, everything that turns grinches in scrooges into what they are, everything that’s tarnished memories or left them just out of reach. Christ was born to magnify loss and suffering in sin and to Himself so that in times of trouble we can looked at the fig tree, see the budding leaves, and know that summer is near. That tree is the cross. It is not empty. It flowers as our Lord hangs there. You see it in the nails and spear that pierce him through. You see your salvation there. You hear His promise. It is finished. After seeing that finished, you can finally face today and dare to look forward. Summer is near. Soon all the world will see it. Soon it will be brought into light, but today we still get peeks. Like Christmas lights shining through open windows at night, but the light of white will return in full for you on that last great day when Christ advents and we join Him in the resurrection. Free of darkness. But even now, lift up your heads. Advent speaks to today.
Lift up your heads. This is not a generic ‘we wish you a merry Christmas’ from a stranger that can’t actually fix what’s wrong. It isn’t a hopeless wish things would finally be better again someday met with the reality of having to fake it for another year. It is a present-day promise of what actually was and absolutely will be. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the word endures forever, and this promise is echoed in our cry of ‘come, Lord Jesus!” answered in the now. He advents to weighed down and burdened hearts. He advents today in the communion of the saints, where He gathers angels and archangels in all of the company of heaven and brings them with Him to meet you at the rail. Those who sleep, who you mourn, who you miss are gathered around Him, rejoicing in the same redemption brought to you. You can actually see it. Lift up your heads to the foretaste of the feast that will come on that last day. See the strength to face this one. Lift up your head and look at the peace of the Lord in the body of Christ for you to eat. You are not a people to be bowed over. Your Lord advents to redeem. The kingdom of God is present, so near you can taste it. You are not alone. You are not forgotten. Your redemption draws near.