On December 2, 1805, the pastor and theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher watched a flute concert. After the concert, he walked back to his apartment and felt a sudden inspiration. He wanted to write something about Jesus’ birth. I wonder how Advent affects us. What has this season been like for you? Last year, we were trying to figure out what to do. This year, we are learning live alongside COVID and have celebrations as the pandemic rages on. How do you feel, and what have you been thinking about as you look ahead to our celebration of Jesus’ birth?
That night, over 216 years ago, Schleiermacher decided to write a story about an unpretentious German household preparing for Christmas. He wrote the story to invite his friends to think about what it means to experience God-incarnate. He felt like it was important to capture both the fun and serene expectation of the redeemer coming into the world. In three furious weeks, he wrote and sent to the printer Christmas Eve Celebration. It’s still in print.
In the story, family and friends sing carols, exchange gifts, and discuss the celebration. Schleiermacher names his novella “a dialogue” because most of the action rests on conversations among the characters. He brings together the sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday. Contemporary readers can share the holiday experience with the characters.
As with any Christmas story, half of what one finds is what one brings. Jesus said as much in the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek and ye shall find” (Matthew 7.7). If we approach Christmas and let the trappings become the meaning, we will not find much. Sure, there will still be presents and cards, but they will be the end in themselves. However, if we approach Christmas and expect the redeemer of humanity, we find a richer experience. The poor and crying child in a feed trough resonates with our pain and struggle. Through him we can find meaning in the midst of everything the holiday season brings, both good and bad.
When Jesus enters the world, humanity enjoys a new capacity for love and joy. The short work Christmas Eve Celebration is a spontaneous testimony of faith. Schleiermacher finds universal joy when he reflects on the incarnation. When I read it, I find encouragement despite the continuing onslaught of bad (or horrifying news). The hope we find in God-incarnate doesn’t take away the pain of the world, but it does something about our eternal separation from God. We can cling to hope because with God, all things are possible.
Advent is an excuse to wait and prepare. Unlike Lent which commemorates the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, Advent means “something’s coming.” Lent is somber and invites us to repent. Advent is exciting. Lent is dark. Advent is full of decorations. In Lent, we extinguish candles, but in Advent, we light them. Both seasons are essential elements in the liturgical year, and both help us get ready for what’s next. Whether you prepare for Jesus’ arrival by reading a story about a German family on Christmas Eve, or you get ready in another way, we should all get ready.
How are you getting ready for the coming Christ child?