I have always loved Advent. I love the season’s special promise, the sense of anticipation that there is something better coming. Even as a child, what I enjoyed about the Advent season was the excitement of looking forward to something, much more than the actual celebration on Christmas Day.
And yet, over the last couple of years, I’ve come out of each Advent season feeling a little bit disappointed. Each year, we proclaim that Christ is coming and that the Kingdom of God is nigh. Yet, each January, those promises ring a little more hollow for me.
I work as a Spanish interpreter for undocumented immigrants at a legal clinic. I spend a lot of time with asylum seekers, migrant farm workers, and immigrant victims of crime and trafficking. In other words, I work on the front lines of this administration’s war on our immigrant sisters and brothers.
And let me tell you: from where I stand, things have gotten worse, not better. In the twelve months that have lapsed since last Christmas, this administration has introduced a plethora of new obstacles for immigrants. So how can I tell myself, each year, that the Kingdom of God—a place where the tyrant is no more, where those who deny justice shall be cut off—is coming? To be perfectly honest, it feels naïve.
When I begin to think this way, I renew my commitment to what Howard Thurman calls “the work of Christmas.” Thurman writes: When the song of the angels is stilled…the work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.
Zebulon Highben, the new Director of Chapel Music at Duke, puts this another way: Messiah comes to those who toil, bestowing God’s own favor.
The truth is that, without a commitment to the work of Christmas, the hope of Advent is baseless. It’s an empty promise. On the other hand, without the hope of Advent, the work of Christmas is unsustainable. It’s a recipe for burnout. So, this Advent season, I invite you to commit yourself to the earthly work of Christmas, energized by the divine hope of Advent.
How will you toil this year? When the song of the angels is stilled, what work will you do? What hope will guide you?
Katie Becker, ’17 and PCM+ Advisory Board Member