From the Desk of Pastor Olsen
Advent begins when the days are about as dark as they are ever going to be. Most everything green has fallen to the ground and died. Frost has long since silenced the songs of crickets and katydids. Nothing in the world of nature looks anything like hope.
Of course, Christmas is coming and for the next several weeks we will be inundated with holiday music. I hesitate to call it Christmas music because much of it has little to do with Christ. In point of fact, Christmas as our culture knows it began long before "black Friday" as colored lights, Christmas stockings and the ever popular fruit cakes began appearing on shelves of grocery and drug stores. Don't misunderstand me. I like Christmas lights, gifts, decking the halls, Rudolf and Frosty. (As for fruit cakes, well, they make good door stops and great paper weights.) What saddens me is the fact that for an increasing number of folks in our communities, that's as much Christmas as they know.
And it isn't enough. Though suicide rates and episodes of debilitating depression appear to drop between Thanksgiving and Christmas, research demonstrates a surge in both for January. Whatever promise of hope this festive time of year might hold out, it appears to wither away shortly after the ball drops in Times Square. Of course, there are people in our community for whom even the most superficial strains of Christmas cheer are meaningless. The homeless, the institutionalized elderly without family or friends to visit them, the incarcerated and the terminally ill facing death alone find little comfort in the holidays. Indeed, Thanksgiving and Christmas only remind them how utterly alone they are.
Thanks be to God we know of a better hope. Thanks be to God we know the Christ who became flesh, and unlike his plastered image that gets carried back up to the attic when the mistletoe comes down, this Christ is Emmanuel, "God with us." He will remain with us too, even after the Christmas trees are all out on the curb and the malls have purged holiday music from their playlists. This is the God who is there when life looks nothing like a Norman Rockwell painting. Born to homeless parents in a drafty barn, living his childhood as an unwanted refugee from political persecution and executed as a criminal, this God knows what it is like to be an outsider living at the margins of life. Yet it is precisely there that God does his best work. According to the gospels, we are never closer to our God than when we feel utterly godforsaken.
That is mighty good news for those of us mourning the loss of a loved one, those of us who face severe financial challenges, those of us struggling with serious health issues and all the rest of us that for whatever reason just can't get into the "Christmas Spirit" this year. Regardless: Emmanuel! God is with us