Growing up, our family had an Advent calendar, stylized as book-like ornaments for each day. Every night in December, leading up to Christmas, we would take one “book” off the tree and read it together. It quickly became a family tradition, and as my brother and I grew older, we were tasked with reading some of the story. Slowly, however, the theology and narrative of Advent became as neatly packaged as the Advent calendar itself—warm, homey, unassuming. Advent, for all its philosophical, political, and theological ramifications, became a mere blip in the minutiae of holiday festivities.
It shouldn’t be this way, right? I consider myself a Christian—I affirm the historic creeds of the Church—and yet I’m no longer thoroughly entranced by the allure of Advent. Personal experience and theological wandering gave way to a predilection for questions rather than certainty. The God who became human has, over time and a myriad of events, receded into the haziness of doubt and unknowing.
I have no skin in the game of debating whether or not God exists; I leave that to the apologists. In my experience, however, the presence and immanence of God has become less believable, but not utter falsehood. As cliché as it might be to say, there is simply too much pain and evil in this world, let alone my singular life, to put much faith in the personal and caring God I so desperately sought as a child. I do want to believe in the nearness of God, and there have certainly been moments in my life where my experience with the divine was personal in some form, yet my trust has waned as an adult. But, I cannot circumvent the drama of Advent, no matter how hard I resist. Every attempt to ignore or run from the enfleshed God fails; I am haunted by that which has escaped my understanding and grasp.
Reflecting on Advent is thus somewhat odd. What should I do with this dramatic tale of the immaterial entering the material, of the separation between sacred and secular vanishing in an instant? What should I do with the Christ I affirm as God, the God who was born to a virgin in a dirty manger, even as I struggle so deeply with giving myself to it all?
Those who follow my wife and I on social media are likely aware of our ongoing dealings with infertility, specifically male infertility. The chances of conceiving children naturally are slim if not highly unlikely. We desperately want children and thus this predicament is heart-wrenching for both of us. In short, we need a miracle. This, I believe, is why Advent continues to demand my attention: the drama of Christ’s birth is unbelievable but it signifies the possibility of impossibility, the brief moment when everything changes.
I need Advent more than I care to admit. I need a miracle—no, we need a miracle. In the haze of unknowing and the pain of life Advent reveals itself as the narrative of graceful interruption.
Oh, how desperately I crave that interruption…
“Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’”