Tis the season for Christmas movies and television galore! Whether it be How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Jingle All the Way, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart, many of us have our seasonal staples and classics that we burn through between Black Friday and New Year’s Day. But have you ever noticed that these films and television specials are often more like Advent stories building up to Christmas? They all bear the weight of anticipating that glorious Christmas morning, and the characters inevitably suffer many trials as they move closer and closer. Ever notice Christmas Vacation uses an Advent calendar to mark off the days until Christmas amidst the hijinks and mishaps of the Griswold Family Christmas? Surely Ralphie’s wait and anguish over that Red Rider BB gun in A Christmas Story is riddled with the hope that he will unwrap it, the peace that he can be okay without it, and the joy of finally getting to nearly shooting his eye out in the back yard. Of course, the Love is the family gathering around a peking duck for Christmas dinner while being serenaded with some heavily accented carols. But let’s not rush to Love yet. This is a time for Joy. Go light your Shepherd candle for Joy. It’s probably the pink one.
On December 17, 1989, the world was introduced to one of it’s new favorite television families in an episode call “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” The inaugural episode of The Simpsons tells the tale of a family who, like many, are financially cramped during the holiday season. Marge has scrimped and saved for gifts, while Homer anxiously awaits his Christmas bonus. However, the bonus never comes thanks to his boss Mr. Burns, and Marge must use all of her savings to have an unfinished tattoo removed from her 10 year old son, Bart. Lacking the heart to tell Marge that he will not receive his bonus, Homer becomes a mall Santa to earn some extra cash, only to make it out with $13 (after taxes, social security, costume costs, and Santa lessons). Homer’s last thread of hope of giving his family a Merry Christmas leads him and Bart to the race track where they bet it all on the promising grey hound, Santa’s Little Helper. The race is highly contested by all racers, except Santa’s Little Helper who comes in an embarrassing dead last. Homer and Bart are left with nothing. And yet they end up taking Santa’s Little Helper home. And inadvertently, they save Christmas! Marge describes it as the greatest gift because the dog is “something that can share our love, and frighten prowlers.” It is a touching scene. And it has something to teach us about the Joy of Advent.
As does Mary the Mother of Jesus. The Magnificat of Mary can be found in Luke 1:46-55. The mother of Jesus sings this wonderful song that proclaims the wonders of who God is and what God is doing in this miracle.
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior;
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant…
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Mary’s whole song overflows with the Joy of the unexpectedness of God’s ways. Because God being born as a baby, into poverty, to a single teenage mom is exactly that: unexpected. The God of the Most High becomes human through the lowly.
And it is this inversion of our expectations that should cause us great Joy. The Joy of Advent follows the Peace that comes from Hope, because the Joy should take us off guard. In Peace, we find ourselves susceptible to the unexpected. In the Peace of God’s promise, we are overcome with Joy when we realize that this Hope is coming from what the world desires to cast aside. Even Joseph desired to divorce Mary, albeit in secret, and needed the assurance of God to see the Joy in what was happening inside the woman he loved.
The Joy of Advent lies in that God is providing for the whole of the cosmos out of the lowliest of circumstances, much like the Joy the financially-broke Simpsons find in a race dog that can’t finish a race. If you’re a fan of the series, you know that Santa’s Little Helper is there to stay, and that the joy he brings to Bart, Lisa, and rest of the family is persistent. The Joy of Advent is persistent. And out of that Joy, we soon find Love. But that is for next week.