“Abstaining, for a moment, from the clamor of compulsive jollification, and instead leaning into the reality of human tragedy and of my own need and brokenness, allows my experience of glory at Christmastime to feel not only more emotionally sustainable but also more vivid, vital and cherished.” – Tish Harrison Warren

Before we can properly celebrate the exuberant joy of Christmas, we make our journey through the more reflective season of advent. Is this apparent detour really necessary? The answer to that depends on how you think we should respond to the world we live in.

The one thing believers, agnostics and nonbelievers can agree on is the undeniable brokenness of our world. While these groups won’t agree on the root causes of this brokenness, most would admit that the world is not as it should be or as we would hope it might be.

So how should we respond to such a world? Some decide to retreat into cynicism, despair, or indifference. Others respond with various forms activism, seeking to shed some light in the darkness. During Advent, Christians respond with both grief at the pain of this world and with robust hope for what God has done, is doing, and will yet do.

One of the things that Advent helps Christians do is to resist the temptation to ignore, deny, or seek to escape the suffering and brokenness of our world. Christmas was never intended to be an anesthetic celebration in which happiness is mandatory, cheer is demanded, and fun is the only goal. Advent resists the tyranny of enforced faux-cheer or the sentimental call to warm religious feelings.

Instead, Advent is built on the understanding that both darkness and light are real and that as a church we need communal rhythms that create space for both grief and joy. At the end of the day, we believe the light is the deeper and more enduring reality. We still have good news to celebrate, even if it has been a rough year. But our celebration is a defiant act of hope, not a saccharine act of delusion and denial. May God bless in your experience of the poignancy of Advent and in the joyful hope of Christmas.