Nick Hall: Advent has arrived – A time to refocus on the fulfilled promise of Christmas

Picture the quintessential Christmas dinner. Three generations of family sit together around a table loaded with holiday favorites. A perfect fire crackles in the fireplace while everyone laughs with one another and snow falls softly outside.

Am I the only one who thinks Hallmark has it wrong?

Historically, the Christmas season is called Advent, a word that means “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” During this month, Christians all around the world refocus on the fulfilled promise of Christmas, the coming of Jesus.

Advent begins Sunday and ends on Dec. 24 – the day before Christmas.

This is a time of reflection and celebration meant to be cherished with friends and family. Yet, this hallowed season can often feel hollow in the face of our messy reality.

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That perfect family sitting around the table? They’re nowhere to be found. Someone’s kid is crying, the turkey is burned, and the snow outside has turned into freezing rain.

Old fights resurface, and someone inevitably brings up religion, sports, or politics. Nothing brings us together like the holidays — and nothing drives us further apart. And into this season of peace and chaos, the message of Advent is exactly what we need.

Jesus was born into a world not unlike ours — one filled with political division, ethnic tension, and social inequality. The rich held power, the poor were marginalized, and the religious elites shunned the “sinners” (anyone they viewed as less worthy than themselves).

It’s easy to see how the life of Jesus would have caused a stir.

Jesus seemed to have a radar for the outcast and forgotten. He ignored cultural taboos and societal expectations in the way he loved others, choosing instead to embrace the sick, help the weary, and eat with sinners — all while declaring: “This is what the kingdom of God looks like.”

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Jesus didn't fix political division. He didn't solve the problem of ethnic tensions or social inequality. Instead, He did something far more powerful and subversive: He undermined all these systems by demonstrating self-sacrificial love.

The classic hymn, “O Holy Night” says it well:

“Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is Love and His gospel is Peace;

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,

And in His name all oppression shall cease”

The name of Jesus breaks the power of selfishness and oppression because it’s only in Jesus that we see how far love is willing to go to set us free from ourselves.

While the love of Jesus might not keep people from arguing around your dinner table this holiday season, it can do something far more powerful. It can release the chains around your own heart and set you free to demonstrate the same sacrificial, freeing love to others.

But the love of Jesus does more than give us hope for dinnertime conversation. This subversive love has the power to transform society from the inside out.

The love of Jesus helps us to see that “unity” does not equal “uniformity.” The Founding Fathers echoed this theme when they talked about the important of unity.

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Consider what James Madison wrote in The Federalist #14: “Hearken not to the unnatural voice which tells you that the people of America, knit together as they are by so many cords of affection, can no longer live together as members of the same family. ... No, my countrymen, shut your ears against this unhallowed language. Shut your hearts against the poison which it conveys.”

Madison’s centuries-old warning calls America today to a renewed commitment to live in unity as members of the same American family. But how do we live in unity with people who are so different than us in the presence of broken systems led by broken people just like us? We do it by receiving the selfless love of Jesus and letting our lives reverberate this love through our words and actions.

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