Hope is Stronger Than Memory

This time of year is so very nostalgic, even sentimental for those of us so charmed or privileged. We long for what was, for our ghosts of happy Christmas Past to visit sooner rather than later with its flood of happy memories. We long for them, cling to them, count on them to affirm and renew what we thought we always knew and even deserved. Good things, like family, relationships, childlike faith, and wonder. For the privileged, there’s no feel-good, fail-safe panacea-like Christmas.

The other day while driving, this peppy tune from the Broadway musical “Mame” came on the radio, and I joyfully sang along, even though I can be the most stubborn “no Christmas music until Christmas” grinch!

WE NEED A LITTLE CHRISTMAS From the show “Mame” (1966, Jerry Herman)

Haul out the holly. Put up the tree before my spirit falls again
Fill up the stocking. I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.
For we need a little Christmas. Right this very minute.
Candles in the window, carols at the spinet
Yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute
Need a little Christmas NOW!!!

But did you realize this song, in the context of the musical, was sung by Auntie Mame and the cast during a sweltering, thoroughly depressing Georgia July? (I remember at least the sweltering part!) Things aren’t going well at all for Auntie Mame. Her plantation-owner husband has died in a freak accident, and her nephew from New York has just come to live with her. The 1929 stock market crash has left her on the verge of bankruptcy. “How,” this transplant from the North into Deep South Georgia wonders, “can we make things better?” Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Haul out the holly! Fill the stocking! Candles in the window! Carols at the spinet! Nothing chases the blues away like Christmas! And we need it, NOW. Right this very minute. The tune is so upbeat that it’s easy to miss the deep angst in the lyrics. “Because I’ve grown a little leaner, grown a little colder, grown a little sadder, grown a little older and I need a little angel, sitting on my shoulder, need a little Christmas NOW!”

Ah, that word that makes Advent so frustratingly counter-cultural even without a pandemic and the prospect of a vaccine that can restore a little normality.

We are—with or without a pandemic, without glorifying the past or minimizing the struggle of the present—by definition, the people whose faith acknowledges that as strong as memory is, hope is stronger still. Life isn’t fundamentally about either the destination or the journey. It’s about who accompanies us. Relationships are, finally, only as strong as the future they promise. That’s why we put all of our eggs in one basket, the basket of Jesus, stronger even than our sinning, stronger even than our dying. The one whose future has death not ahead, but in the past, and therefore not just the one who came, but will come again in power.

…which brings us back to Advent that announces, awaits, prepares for, aches for that one’s coming.

“Keeping Advent” means not letting anything, not our proud past, not even Christmas, obscure our hope, watching, waiting, repentance. Yes, I’ve all but sold my soul to the Amazon Prime culture of instant gratification. I prefer it all right now. But oh, how we all NEED to learn and to recover and to practice hopeful WAITING! All will be well in the end, and to the extent that all is NOT well, this is NOT the end!

How much more poignant this year, as in-person gathering hopes for families, much less congregations, are still very much up in the air, as the snowball rolls down the hill toward 300,000 virus deaths, as racial and political and economic ideologies and realities split family and nation. So yes, “We want a little Christmas. Right this very minute. Vaccine distribution. Fulfillment to win it.” But Advent invites us into the counter-intuitive, spiritually and emotionally necessary posture of active waiting. Faith. I’m with you, Mame. Got my tree up. Blared Christmas carols last week. Earliest ever. But need a little Advent NOW!

Walking with you,

NC Synod Bishop

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