Advent is a time that we get ready for the coming of the Christ child—the incarnation—the God who came. In our best moments, we really do prepare our hearts and minds to receive this infant king, God with us. Advent—the God who came, who is with us, joy, love, peace, hope in the midst of the broken world.
And yet there is something else afoot too—(Un)Carnation, the unbecoming, the undoing, the unmaking. Sometimes it’s hard for us to get out of the forced joyfulness. Carols and Christmas music blaring in the stores, Christmas decorations in the stores, clerks greeting us with a, “Merry Christmas!” or, “Happy Holidays.” We have a hard time acknowledging that for many people the holidays are difficult, hard, full of grief.
This time of year always reminds me of leaving the church. It reminds me of traditions past that I had the honor and privilege of entering into in each of the congregations I served. There was the Beef and Noodle dinner in New Meadows, singing Silent Night in the snow, the window lights and Christmas Eve service in Sweet, the celebration of Epiphany in Emmett with the visit of the three wise men, the seven (or more) Christmas trees with a detailed three ring binder of decorations and places in Caldwell, the simple, intimate Christmases of Monroe, the sanctuary of Lebanon filled with the aroma of cinnamon, going to the parishioner’s Christmas tree farm and getting a couple of live trees for the Sherwood church…. I carry all of these memories and more with me. The thing is, though, that those traditions belong to the communities of faith. They are not my traditions, and since I am no longer part of any of those faith communities, they are not my traditions any longer. I have been (un)carnationed.
It’s not just me leaving parishes, parish ministry, or even the denomination of my youth, although for me, this is where it hits me, its all of the things that bring sadness, sorrow, and grief to people. It’s missing grandpa and the way he got so excited about gifts for the grandchildren, its the loss of a spouse, its the loss of a pet, its the living in a new house, new community. For everyone, this season of incarnation is also a season of (un)carnation. We live in the paradox of both/and/not.
I guess that is what Advent and Christmastide is really all about. Its about now and not yet, about joy and about grief, about yes and no, about old traditions and new ones, about pain and hope. Its about the God who came and the one who will come again. Incarnation and (Un)carnation.
Rev. Dr. Kirk E. Jeffery