One of the things I love about the Advent and Christmas season is the music. How can one ever tire of hearing the ancient tune “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” or the many jubilant hymns such as “Joy to the World” or “O Come All Ye Faithful?” As I have grown older, however, I have become more attentive to the texts of these songs. With so much talk of bright stars, angels, and baby Jesus sleeping quietly in the manger, I cannot help but wonder if we romanticize the event of the Jesus’ birth. In reality, it was gritty, messy, and difficult: the Holy Family travelled miles on foot, experienced total exhaustion and hunger, and Mary gave birth in a barn surrounded by animals, dirt, and foul smells. It was a far cry from comfort.
I say this not to kill the holiday spirit, but to challenge us to go deeper and recognize the profundity of the incarnation. The God who created the galaxies and Mount Everest, parted the Red Sea, and appeared to Moses in a burning bush, chose willingly to enter our battered world with all of its problems, human suffering, and injustices. Forget dying on a cross—the fact that God even wanted to enter into the world at all is mind-boggling in and of itself.
The ramifications of this, I believe, are great because it speaks to who God is—not a distant God or a God of vengeance, but a God whose love and mercy is greater than we can ever imagine. This divine being does not look on from afar, but rather, wants to be close to us and in relationship. During his time on earth, Emmanuel (literally “God-With-Us”) shared meals, had conversations, and healed people. He got angry, laughed, and felt hunger. Why? Because of his love and mercy for us.
This Advent Season, Roman Catholics around the globe will begin celebrating the Year of Mercy as promulgated by Pope Francis. This Jubilee Year is meant to be a time of “rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time.” (Pope Francis, The Face of Mercy) Considering the state of the world today, I cannot help but think there is no better time to hear this message. We are living amidst a global refugee crisis, rampant terrorism and violence, racism, and mounting tensions between countries. How different our world would be if we could only show mercy to one another! Violence would end, retaliation for offenses cease, refugees would find welcome and a chance at a new life, and anyone considered the “other” in society would be loved and treated as the family members that they are.
Our world needs mercy and Advent now more than ever. We need the hope and expectant longing that is the foundation of this liturgical season, for without it our only option is a life of cynicism and despair. Although the many problems that plague us will never fully end in this lifetime, we are reminded that in Christ, evil will never have the last word. The resurrection always triumphs, no matter how prevalent the darkness. That is something to be hopeful about.
So do enjoy the “warm-fuzzy” feeling this holiday season brings. Sing the carols, play the Christmas tunes in your dorm room, and shop for presents. (Maybe after exams?) We definitely need that to remain positive in a world that has a lot of problems. But also remember there is much more. Remember that Jesus’ choice to walk this earth—the very event of the incarnation—speaks to his boundless love and desire to be with us. Remember that, just as Jesus entered history to be close to us, so we need to be close to others. Challenge yourself to walk with people, instill hope, and be the face of mercy to them—whether or not we think they deserve it. May this Advent season be a time of renewed hope and a time of truly living mercy as Jesus taught us.
Rachelle Kramer is the Assistant Director for Liturgy and Music in the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice at Xavier University.