Let this Advent be a time of seeing with new eyes

Author Tom Heger

Advent is an opportunity to anticipate Christmas again, for the first time.

Among the challenges of the season is to decide which Christmas we’re about to celebrate: The “sugar plums” version of our childhood; the “25 percent off” version of the marketplace; the “Joy to the World!” version of the carols; or the “Who invited them?” upsetting narratives of the Gospels?

Our annual opportunity: Celebrate that precious ancient story … in an authentically fresh way!

We know the story of Christmas all too well. It’s shopworn, predictable and safe. We own it, we control it and we like it that way. But it has lost its power to inspire and confront and challenge.

Take, for example, those “shepherds” in Luke’s account. They have become my well-scrubbed young grandkids in bathrobes in the church pageant. But in Jesus’ time, they were the 1st century’s version of day laborers, undocumented immigrants, street people — marginalized folk willing to do the work no one else does.

“Those people.” It’s so easy to say, “Who invited them?” when they appear in our daily lives.


So, this Advent, how can we get out of our comfortable and safe cocoons and experience Christmas, again; for the first time?

Or, take those “wise men” in Matthew’s account. They have become majestically serene Dalai Lama-type blessing bestowers that only Disney could create and Hallmark could market.

While we’re not sure who they were, historically, their role in the narrative was stereotype-shattering bold: to proclaim that this birth was witnessed and worshipped first … by outsiders. Profoundly outside outsiders. Heretics. Infidels. Aliens.

“Them.” It’s so easy to say, “Who invited them?”

The God of the first Christmas, the God of this Christmas, that’s who does the inviting. An authentically Advent-awakened Christmas story invites all of “them!”

So, this Advent, how can we get out of our comfortable and safe cocoons and experience Christmas, again; for the first time?

Go somewhere familiar, and look for the anomaly, the different, the unexpected.

Go to the Botanical Center and, instead of walking to the tall tower and circling the rose garden, try jumping over the bubbling streams and bending low enough to smell the tiny herbs. God’s presence out there, in unexpectedly beautiful places.


God’s promise is here, in unexpectedly precious relationships.

Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels

Gather at your extended family’s holiday table and, instead of resentfully tolerating naive political blather (or brusquely correcting your obviously misinformed uncle), listen for tiny slivers of shared values, cherish ancient memories of shared glee, appreciate your common hopes for the Spurs!

God’s promise is here, in unexpectedly precious relationships.

Let Advent be a season of seeing with new eyes and expectations: See the “other” as neighbor, see the shepherds as precious partners in God’s plan, not as outsider threats to our identity and security. See the Magi as pointers to an even more inclusive community, not as outsider threats to our own spiritual smugness.

Go somewhere familiar and experience something profoundly, radically different. That’s what Christmas was. That’s what Christmas can be, this year.

(with credit to Marcus Borg for the “again, for the first time.”)

Text Copyright 2017 San Antonio Express-News, reprinted with permission from it’s “Faith” section.


Author Bio: Tom grew up in Chicago’s western suburbs, attended college in Minnesota and Seminary in Princeton. He was the Campus Interfaith Ministry Pastor at the University of Oregon; was twice elected to the Eugene, Oregon, school board; and served congregations in Rochester, New York City and Austin. In 1966 Tom marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Chicago—a pivotal, transformative moment for him. After serving his community and congregation as the pastor of the Beacon Hill Presbyterian Church for nine years, Tom retired in 2014. He continues to be an active advocate for urban communities, inter-faith dialogue, and human rights… for all! His new “business card” now proudly proclaims that Tom is “Grandfather of Eleven.”

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