Advent — always a brisk, brief season — is shorter than usual this year. Christmas Eve is following right on the heels of the fourth Sunday in Advent. Among other things, that means we skip the daily readings appointed for the days following the fourth Sunday: readings designed to prepare us for Christmastide, which is now upon us.
The effect of losing this week in the table of lessons and Psalms is curious. For while Christmas Day shall fall on December 25, as it always does, it feels like Christmas Day is coming like a thief in the night — with a kind of thrill of fear that usually attends a well-rendered judgment.
In this, the abbreviation in the liturgical calendar this year brings out something significant about Christmas. For while Christmas is profoundly comforting, it is not (in the colloquial sense) comfortable. At the Lord Jesus’s first Advent, God did nothing less momentous than judge the world:
This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
Sometimes the most effective judgment is simply to turn the lights on. Flick the switch in the kitchen and the naughty cockroaches scurry for the dark underbelly of the refrigerator. Publish the content of the shady backroom deal and the naughty politicians scurry to the comforting darkness of their war rooms and lawyers’ offices. Let a six-year-old speak simple Sunday School truth to an erudite middle-aged sociologist, and the hedges magically appear like Jack’s beanstalk. Those whose eyes have adapted to see in thick darkness do not take kindly to the curtains going up in the morning.
Yet for all the rage against the arrival of the light, the light, like the little beam from the star Samwise Gamgee saw hanging over Mordor, has found its way into and – simply by being itself – judged the darkness. At that, the thrill of fear, which called us to attention and sobriety, may give way to a thrill of hope.
Happy Christmastide, friends!