Advent arrives too early. We have barely recovered from the joys and excesses of celebrating Thanksgiving when Advent comes knocking on the door like an unexpected guest. We open the door and welcome him in and then stand around not exactly knowing what we should do. At least when Lent, Advent's older brother arrives, we know how to behave. We greet Lent by giving up something, but Advent tells us to wait and prepare without giving us any explicit instructions.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
If Thanksgiving is the angelic party on the mountainside and Christmas is the encounter at the manger then Advent is the long walk down the mountain in the dark. The Shepherds leave the place where heavenly worship spilled over onto the earth and begin a journey. They begin as worship spectators and end as worship participants, but first comes a narrow dangerous path. A path that looks very different than when they walk it in daylight. And as they journey they leave their sheep, their only source of income, behind. The hope of a Savior drives them toward the manger, and the memory of Angels gives them comfort, but after seeing heavenly light the mountain seems especially dark.
I seem to spend most of my life on that path. I have had moments when Heaven's joy seems to fill my heart, and other times where I know exactly where the manger is and in which direction I should walk. But often my Christian life is a stumble down a dark mountainside. My lips may be singing 'Walking, walking in the light, in the shining light of heaven above' but that is more of a statement of faith than experience, of hope than reality.
I have experienced God, and I will experience God. The Hope of Advent is that no matter how dark the path, I will reach the manger. Christ will be born, not just in a stable, but in our lives. As we journey towards God, He, through some divine mystery, journeys towards us. The father runs towards the Prodigal Son as he sees him cross the horizon.
And there is another mystery.
None of us journey alone. We may tell ourselves that we do. We may keep other people at a distance because of what we fear they would see. But none of us walk down the mountain alone. Our companions may not be who would we choose, but they are who we have. And, if we have eyes to see clearly, that person is the embodiment of God for us.
As we journey towards Jesus, not only does Jesus journey towards us, but he journeys with us as well.
As we begin this journey of Advent, where are you right now? Basking in the light of Angels? Close to the light of the stable? Wandering down the mountain in the dark? It's not enough to know where we are going, we also need to know where we are.
Who is journeying with you? Who will you allow to be Jesus for you this Advent Season?