Ah! Advent! No longer Thanksgiving, but not yet Christmas. And the “not yet Christmas” part is important because Advent is about the anticipation of Christmas. It is about the waiting and anticipating of the birth of God enfleshed in Christ. It is looking forward to that point in the church calendar when the Creator burst into Creation as never before and in a way no one could predict. But let’s not jump ahead to stables and shepherds and angels. The anticipation comes with reflection and preparation. Over the next four weeks, I’d like to share some of my own reflections on this season in a series I like to call Advent(ure) Thoughts.
While some of us sit in contemplative anticipation of the birth of Christ, many youngsters (and some not-so-youngsters) anticipate something a little different this time of year: presents. And I have little doubt that video games are at the top of many of those Christmas lists (Confession: it’s on mine).
I have a love/hate relationship with video games. At best, they’ve been an elaborate, immersive medium through which I’ve experienced some wonderfully crafted narratives. At not-so-best, I’ve abused them as an escape from the responsibilities and pressures of reality. I’m sure I am not alone in this nerd-related tension.
I still remember the first video game I ever played. It wasn’t Pac-Man, or Duck Hunt. No, friends, the first time I fit my palms around the sharp corners of an NES controller, I ventured into the land Hyrule with the lustrous, gold cartridge of The Legend of Zelda (circa 1986!). The one that started it all! It remains one of my favorite games of all time.
Here’s opening to the game.
If you didn’t pick up on it, that old man just gave the hero, Link, a wooden sword. A wooden sword!? How reassuring is that? “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.” Not only are you, the player, still alone but you have a wooden to sword to fend off “danger.” Fabulous…
I once had a friend explain Advent to me this way: “Advent is to Christmas as Lent is to Easter.” It is about longing to see what God will do. The Advent wreath, given to us from the Lutheran tradition, marks each Sunday until Christmas with a candle that signifies a different element of the Advent journey (dare I say… the Advent-ure?). This past Sunday marks the lighting of the Prophet Candle, or the Candle of Hope.
The prophets in the Old Testament often wrote of hope. Not only that, they wrote of hope in the bleakest of circumstances. Most scholars agree that the Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem in 586BCE. A whole people group became displaced and dispersed into a strange land that is not their own. Israel no longer resided in the Promised Land. The people of God were no longer home. Yet, the prophets write about Hope. Isaiah is the prophet most often quoted this time of year.
“and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.”
-Isaiah 2:4 (ESV)
Naive words for a man who has witnessed, and will continue to witness, the conquest of his people and the destruction of his home. How can Isaiah speak of the absence of war when war is consuming the prophet’s world?
I think it is because true hope, the hope we cling to with fathomless desperation, is often naive. And that is why hope can get you laughed at, or scoffed at.
But Hope is the first candle for a reason. Hope moves us forward. It keeps us lifting our heads off of the pavement and brushing the dirt from our knees.
Henri Nouwen, in The Wounded Healer, writes “Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory” (77).
When we look towards Christmas and the birth of Christ because, first and foremost, there is the Hope of the world. The Hope for change. The Hope for the whole of the Cosmos to be as it was intended to be.
The funny thing about that wooden sword in The Legend of Zelda is that it’s your primary weapon for most of the game. Fighting monsters in a strange land with a wooden sword is ridiculous. Yet, when that is all you have, it becomes everything. It becomes the most important tool in your pack to persevere on your adventure. It becomes hope. You say to yourself, “If I have this, maybe I can still make it.”
It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.