Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Season of Advent

This is the season of Advent—the four Sundays preceding Christmas. “Advent” means “coming” or “coming into being or use.” It refers, in this case, of course, to the advent of the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Of course, most people know that Jesus was not really born on Christmas day. The actual date of his birth cannot be established with any certainty. In a Google search, we can find numerous explanations, like the very good one linked here, of why his birth came to be celebrated on December 25.

In the early years of the Christian church, the date of his birth was considered to be insignificant; the important time was his death and resurrection. Now, we celebrate it in December probably because, as the New Life web site tells us, “In Rome December 25 was made popular by Pope Liberius in 354 and became the rule in the West in 435 when the first ‘Christ mass’ was officiated by Pope Sixtus III. This coincided with the date of a celebration by the Romans to their primary god, the Sun, and to Mithras, a popular Persian sun god supposedly born on the same day.”

At any rate, here we are in the sixth year of the 21st century, preparing for Christmas, the season of hope and love. Two things happened this weekend that have touched my heart with Christmas spirit.

Yesterday, I ran into a friend of mine whom I’ll call “Cora”—that’s not really her name. I heard a few weeks ago that she has been diagnosed with bone cancer, and I’ve been in a state of denial about it. She is one of the world’s best people. She was in the grocery store, getting ready to feed 35 family members next weekend. So yesterday, in the canned goods aisle, I asked her if it is true.

Cora said, “Well, yes, and no.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes. She explained that tests show she has the cells in her blood, but it has not caused any symptoms. As she told me about possible treatments and outcomes, I began to cry—I couldn’t help it, right there in the grocery store.

Cora comforted me. She said, “We know that everything is in God’s hands.” I agreed with her, through my tears. She said, “There might be some pain and yucky stuff on the way, but then—just to be with God—that couldn’t be bad!” I agreed, still crying.

Then, this morning in church, my young friend “Crystal” and her four-year-old daughter “Eva” lit the second Advent candle; they were both wearing red sweaters. Crystal helped Eva light it, and then Crystal read a piece about opening our hearts to Christ. As Crystal read, she held Eva’s hand. Eva leaned lightly against Crystal’s arm and gazed up at her the whole time she read, her blonde curls falling back. She smiled while she listened, and her blue eyes told how she adores her mother. Her father died of cancer during this past year. Crystal has been strong and cheerful, as she has been both father and mother for Eva.

It is a time of hope, light, love, giving—because of Jesus, whose date of birth we don’t really know. I feel the glow of Advent.

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