hope
This image is a recreation of this postcard from the sisters of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey

 

{ The Hopes and Fears of All the Years }

Winter came right on time this year here in the Hudson Valley. It’s my favorite place to celebrate the Advent season. My university is surrounded by farms and historic buildings, now bedecked in greenery, red bows and twinkling lights. It’s the timelessness and familiarity of Christmas – no matter where you spend it – that makes it such a universally sentimental season.

As I’m sitting at the airport preparing for my flight home for Christmas, I’m contemplating the things I’ve been reading and writing about for the past five months. I think if I were to summarize all of Tolkien and Lewis’ works so far under one overarching theme, it would be the longing I described in my last post. Lewis called it ‘Joy’; Tolkien came closest to describing it when he called himself ‘Philomythus‘ or ‘myth-lover’ – it is the  longing for a greater story, something mythical and unattainable, something above and beyond this reality, that united these men both in friendship and now in literary memory.

I believe Advent is the time when people most openly express and even celebrate this sentiment. Even people who prescribe no religious significance to Christmas see it as a time to celebrate hope, togetherness, homecoming, and joy. I think it’s a wonderful time to share the Gospel because it is a time when many people put aside cynicism and pay attention to the longings of their own heart – longing to be with loved ones, longing for an end of busyness and stress, longing for familial or global peace, longing for beauty in the sights and sounds and smells around them. At no other point on the calendar do we find such widespread vulnerability.

{ Always Winter, Never Christmas }

“Why, it is she [the White Witch] that has got all Narnia under her thumb. It’s she that makes it always winter. Always winter and never Christmas; think of that!”

– C.S. Lewis’ Mr. Tumnus, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I strongly associate Christmastime with C.S. Lewis’ most famous work, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It is the first adventure in Narnia, a world which, upon first introduction, is covered in eternal winter. Mr. Tumnus, who has become a slave to the White Witch and her deceit, remembers the world before winter fell as he laments Narnia’s curse to little Lucy Pevensie. Winter is bearable, can be cheerful even, when one knows Christmas is the reward waiting on the other side. The cold and the snow are signs of what is to come. But winter without Christmas is a life without hope.

How like our world. To feel a longing for something other is to know one is out of place where one is. How easy it must’ve been for creatures in Narnia who never knew anything but winter, who never knew there was a Christmas to wait for. But Mr. Tumnus is like those of us who ache for Home. I believe everyone knows in the recesses of their heart that Home lies elsewhere. But for we who have been touched by the Light, this longing grows stronger and stronger every year that we remain in exile. Christmas drives home that longing for me.

The hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” captures the sentiment of Christmas in my own heart better than anything else – it speaks of life in Israel before the Messiah came to earth. Far before the joy and the snow and the bells, this hymn narrates the 400 year period between the old and new testaments when God seemed utterly silent – no prophets, and no signs of the Christ. A winter without Christmas. But in this homesickness remains the promise: “Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

God did not abandon his people. They simply could not be satisfied in a relationship with Him dependent on sacrifice and duty – a relationship they (we) chose through disobedience. He knew this. Every stage of his plan, of his relationship with humanity, was carefully crafted to reveal to us his glory, forgiveness, and love. Sometimes, on reflection, this 400-year period seems cruel to me. I don’t understand his silence. But Christmas came, and the silence was broken with a whisper.

{ Rejoice! Rejoice! }

“The birth of Christ is the Eucatastrophe of man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends with joy.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories”

It is with a quiet triumph that God entered the scene, to bring us home and make our wrongs right. At one moment in history, the planes of the eternal and the temporal were pressed together, joined in a divine kiss. The breathless anticipation of the Advent season is released, those who trust God’s promise are satisfied, and the bells peal, loud and sweet, for Joy and Hope. Know that what God did once in a stable in Bethlehem, He will do again – and for good.

Let us not forget, too, that Advent is a time of heartache for so many people. For those of us who long for heaven, it is often a reminder of things lost and times we can never return to – and of things to come that we simply can’t fathom yet. For everyone, I believe, it is a sign of our restlessness, the state of waiting and yearning that we all find ourselves in. Christmas hurts, I believe. But it is the most beautiful kind of pain. Without this ache, it would be easy to forget the care with which our soul was crafted, and the Home which it was destined for. Christmas holds the promise that winter will indeed end, if we accept the outstretched hand of the true Father Christmas.

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