by Chuck Dotson
It's the most wonderful time of the year ...
True, as long as you aren’t trying to find a parking spot in a shopping center or you aren’t waiting for a table at a restaurant full of office Christmas parties. The grit of all these small seasonal inconveniences tends to eat into the wonderfulness. Add to that more social obligations. (You can’t miss those office Christmas parties). Oh, and anxieties about family drama, anxieties about gifts, anxieties about the money we spend on those gifts. Pretty quickly, the most wonderful time of the year can become, well, a kind of hell.
Not literal hell, of course. That’s the bad place where bad people go when they die. At least that’s how we tend to think of hell. And to whatever degree we think about it we try to keep it as far away from ourselves as we can. We may be squeamish about the thought of other human beings in eternal torment but we are intensely averse to thinking of ourselves in eternal torment.
Hell isn’t a cheery subject for the most wonderful time of the year. Maybe that’s why it’s one of the traditional focal points of the Advent season. The reality of hell scrapes away any hazy sentimental filter that we have constructed around the Christmas season. The shock of entering into the season of Advent to contemplate with intentionality the last things—death, judgment, hell, and heaven—rouses us out of sleepwalking through another Christmas.
But what about hell, then? What can we say about it to awaken ourselves to the coming—and the coming again—of Jesus?
The most extended picture we have of hell in the Bible is in Luke 16, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It’s a potent parable, with layers of meaning and application but the central image is that of the rich man, dead, tormented, and separated from Lazarus by an uncrossable chasm. This chasm is the ultimate separation from life, from relief, and from God. This is the ultimate torment of hell, to be separated forever from the God who loves us and created us to live in relationship with him.
Our Scripture this week is Isaiah 7:13,14 in which the prophet calls the son to be born, Immanuel. Immanuel literally means “God with us.” Jesus comes in the fullness of God and the fullness of humanity in order that we may never be separated from God. Immanuel is the promise that through Jesus, we need not ever experience the torment of hell.
The collect for the third Sunday in Advent prays, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us”. God has done this, and in his great might he has given us a nobody baby, born to nobody parents in a nowhere manger so that we would never be apart from him again.
The Door, a worship and teaching ministry of St. John the Divine, invites you to spend ten minutes in meditation every Wednesday in Advent focused on how the anticipated coming of Christ is also a look back from his second coming. This weekly livestream will air live on The Door's YouTube channel at noon.