Now that we are a decade into the twenty first century, all sorts of articles, editorials, and news stories are appearing ‘reflecting upon’ the last ten years.
We laugh now at our ignorance over fears about the world’s computers shutting down at the turn of the century, not having any idea less than a year and a half later our world would completely change due to terrorism. “9/11” is now inscribed on our collective consciousness, and yet many who are about to turn twenty one remember that day as a half-dream, a foggy memory. Though their lives were changed forever, and airline travel is now a dogged affair, they may or may not have the raw, encumbered visceral memories from that day.
This reflection upon our shared history seems important. In remembering together, we grieve a bit, we think of things as they were and as they are, we bring to mind people who are not here or look with gratitude upon the young who we do not yet know. Through our shared reflections we reassemble who we are, as individuals and as a community, and though these memories are hardly precise or absolute, they tell us who we are. They offer us identity.
There is an abundance of talk about the Christmas story being a myth, a church take-over of pagan solstice rites, and thus, should be ignored. But there is something more going on here than an anthropological substitute. Our church calendar tells a longer story that bleeds over into the cultural calendar. In other words, there remains a particular disconnect in what the church does at this time of year and what is going on elsewhere. Singing carols in the sanctuary on Sundays after the first of the year seems antiquated and hopelessly out of step with what is going on at the local malls.
Yet, this quirky, out of step with time church calendar, which begins with Advent and then carries us into the next year, seems exactly right. Because it starts with a waiting, and waiting is defined in part by a not knowing, and then it bears us through Christmas, into Epiphany, where we hear John bellowing and about a twelve year old Jesus in the temple and a promise, now incarnate. We reflect upon light and Word, and we are given a certainty: this is who you are.
Despite the familiarity of these seasons, despite the sort of ‘oops, out of step with culture’ nature of them, despite their rambling and inchoate ways, or their half-dreamy elements, there emerges from these seasons of Advent and Christmas and Epiphany a conviction and an assurance that God is now in the world. The Word is made flesh and it dwells among us. These seasons, in spite of ourselves, help us reassemble. They help us reflect, they give us our identity as God’s people.
We wait and hope, just as the people did before us, with all our private virtues and intimate follies. The wise men come with their amber lanterns and Herod panics and rails, and the psalmist speaks of abandonment. And we, who know all this, we who remember, know our identity is laid open to a particular eternity. We know what consummates our waiting: the Word is now flesh, and the Word, this promise, though common, is infinitely faithful.