[Starting tomorrow, 11/27, I will publish one story from the book each day of Advent until Christmas Eve. Please spread the word. -Craig]
-Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning "coming".
Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from three different perspectives. "Since the time of Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153) Christians have spoken of the three comings of Christ: in the flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily, and in glory at the end of time." The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming. -
Tomorrow begins Advent.
Seven years ago, right about this time of year, I was having some discussions with my daughter about Christmas and Advent. It was the first year that she no longer believed in Santa Claus. At least not in a physical visit from the old elf. And as it turned out, it was the last year we would do an Advent calendar together.
I used to buy two identical Advent calendars for her. She kept one at my house and one at her mom’s. When she was with me she would open a door each night and we would talk about what lay behind it. When she was at her mom’s. she would do the same, but while on the phone with me. It was one of my favorite traditions and it dated back to my own childhood. I was not raised Catholic or Orthodox, but we had a cardboard Advent Calendar each year. They were magical. Each day drew me one day closer to Christmas. As a child, I didn’t understand the significance of the calendar, or of Advent, but I loved the excitement. I wanted to keep this tradition alive with my own daughter and I managed to do so for ten years.
But Christmas 2009 was different.
I had been homeless for over a year by that point. The previous year was not my year to have her for the holiday anyway so it never became a problem. But 2009 was my turn, and I had nowhere to go. We usually go home to the Philadelphia area for Christmas, but the weeks leading up were always festive at my house and this year that would not be the case. I was homeless. We could not decorate my house. There was nowhere to hang the Advent calendar. And I needed that Advent more that year than ever before.
It means “coming.”
Jesus. The Messiah, He was coming.
The ancient world ached for His arrival. The people of Israel had been hounded and scattered and oppressed for centuries. They were under the Roman thumb as they watched and waited for their Deliverer. When He came, they didn’t recognize Him. He was illegitimate. He was poor. He was from the wrong side of the tracks. His life was greeted with whispers and scandal and outrage. He would spend his days lonely, misunderstood, attacked, beloved, betrayed, and finally murdered. His story would be altogether tragic had it not been for the Resurrection.
But none of that was known in those days leading up to His arrival in Bethlehem. Nobody knew what the future held for this little baby, born in a cave where sheep had been bedding down only hours before. This little boy whose mother claimed she was still a virgin, and that the child’s father was God Himself. This teenaged girl and her loving husband who must have been in turmoil inside. How could he not be? He wasn’t sure about Mary’s story about God being this baby’s father but he knew one thing…he was not. Yet he loved her and so he stayed married to her and decided to be obedient to the angel that bore the message from God, and raise this child as his own.
The world was convulsing and wrestling that night. The Romans had taken control of the region. They were in league with local rulers who cut deals for their own power and advancement. The People of Israel were weary. Mary was almost ready to have this baby. Joseph was poor. The houses were all full. There was only a cave.
He is coming…
He is coming. He is making His way here, to take on flesh and walk among us for thirty-three years. To feel what we feel. To sweat, to weep, to laugh, to teach. To heal and to make whole. Those are two different things. You can heal a wound or an illness. You can make someone whole who isn’t broken on the outside, but on the inside. And He was coming to save us. To save us from the sin that condemned us.
He came to die.
This was God. God in the flesh. Not just any flesh…baby flesh. Tiny, helpless, approachable, unassuming. Had you or I been there that night, and had we somehow wandered into that cave, we might have looked at the teenaged mom and asked, “Mary…could I hold Him?” What if she said “yes?” What if she placed that little form in your arms and you went breathless as he moved gently, and slept as you held Him? What if the whole history of man was laying there wrapped in those rags that night, and you were holding Him? What if you knew the outcome and destiny of His life on the very night it began? Would that change you? Would you be different? Would you view God differently if you could have held Him in your arms when he was a baby?
I think the answer is yes.
Seven years ago, when I was a broken man, homeless, hopeless, bewildered, and under the cruel thumb of an economy that would not relent, I needed an Advent. I needed to anticipate His coming. I needed to be there on that night…the night where history breaks in two as cleanly as a saltine cracker.
Before Him and After Him.
I wrote the first story on November 28, 2009. I wrote one each day thereafter for the entire Advent season that year. They came in spurts. One each day. Each one came so fast I could barely write them down sometimes. Each one oved me deeply and made me think about Jesus at Christmas in ways I never had before.
These stories became a book, “The Ragamuffin’s Christmas.” This year, in a world that needs these stories more than ever, I have decided to publish them again, the way I did that first year. Free on the internet. One each day on my blog. I hope there will be folks out there who need these stories. I hope they find them.
He is coming. He approaches us once again. The Nativity set has been taken from storage, the trees are going up, the music announces His birth. He is, once again…everywhere.
This has been a hard year for me and my daughter, much as it was that first year when these stories were new. I know I need an Advent this year. I hope that, while I am on this journey yet again this season, there will be others who join me. I hope that, come Christmas morning, as I kneel in the manger of my heart, I find myself surrounded by other travelers at this stable. Others who, like me, have been shipwrecked here and found ourselves revived by the cry of a tiny babe.