Advent as a Special Sabbath

While light emerging in darkness is perhaps the most familiar Advent motif, Mary’s pregnancy in preparation for giving birth is a part of Advent I ponder often, too — even as a woman who has never given birth. At this moment draws near, Mary must drop everything to give her attention to act of giving birth, of bringing forth a being who is not herself (though she too now has a mission which has caught up her own life in ways she cannot fathom).

Perhaps it’s just because it’s the end of a semester and I’ve turned in grades, but the rhythm of things for me just now amid Advent is to find myself putting aside a lot of intensive labor I’ve been at for months. Letting dissolve all I’ve worked on in the past months as it draws to a close, and turning my attention to readiness for Christmas, in its material and spiritual dimensions.

This dropping all to focus on the presence (and presents) of Christmas makes Christmas something like a special Sabbath. I know that may not be what Christmas preparations themselves feel like, but maybe for most Christians Christmas is the only time of the year we tend to treat with the dignity and difference observant Jews give to the Sabbath. We let Christmas interrupt the rhythms of our lives, however messily and imperfectly, however still full of distractions we may be.

The Sabbath for Jews is a day of completion, a day to live as though all if fulfilled, God has drawn near in the Sabbath Queen to dwell with us. For us, Christmas is the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the day God comes to dwell with us in Christ, born in a manger and born each year in our hearts, in the common texture of our lives together.

Where is Christ’s birth most manifest for you this year? Do you sense Christ’s coming in silence or in music and socializing? In the solitude of remembering a long ago youth nostalgically, or amid trying to organize a feast for many relatives or friends?

It is good to know that like the Sabbath each week, Christmas and Christ come to us regardless of what work we have before and after. Like a dog coming up to nuzzle us for attention, like a birth that cannot be avoided.

The other dimension of Advent is Judgment, God’s coming to reckon with us. It’s jarring and terrifying and absurd all at once to look at the coming of Christ in the face of an infant, then as a warrior with a double-edged sword in his mouth in the book of Revelation. The beginning and the end of things, the vulnerability and the power, all come to meet us at Christmas.

No wonder we need to make like the prepared virgins and have some oil ready to light lamps for the bridegroom!

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