by Scott Crosby
Christmas is a time for me to indulge my perspective on the “already, but not yet”. In my personal realm this brings memories of past Christmases to the forefront of my mind and emotions. The Christmases of my childhood were cold, snowy, and celebrated around fireplaces and wood stoves. It was a time woven by family and community traditions that not only celebrated the birth of Christ but embedded this celebration squarely in the fabric of community. There was always the underlying sense of the sights, sounds, smells, anticipation, and traditions all taking place with and because of others.
The best art through the ages has captured this facet of Advent and Christmas. Duccio di Buoninsegna painted in the 14th century and his depiction of the nativity was all about community. Surrounding the Holy Family are the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel giving Biblical weight and heavenly approval, along with a panoply of angels and shepherds looking on.
Sandro Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity is another work placing the Redeemer of the world not in the private space of immediate family but in the presence of angels rejoicing in heaven, angels on earth announcing His coming, and the shepherds just arrived from the fields. This has always been central to Christmas. Jesus was (and is) the hope of the world. He came to seek and save the lost – the plight of every one of us, regardless of our station.
The communal element in these and most all nativity paintings through the ages is ever-present. There are numerous people beyond the immediate family of Mary and Joseph, and the very range of participants is central to the message of salvation. It is for the elite (the angels and the Magi), for the common laborer (shepherds), and for the outcast (Mary and Joseph – pregnant but unmarried). It is a joining of the world in a humble stable because the event transcended every economic, social, ethnic, and aesthetic barrier, just as the Gospel does to this very day.
Advent itself is spoken of as a time of waiting and anticipation of the coming of the Christ. It is a time of celebratory anticipation leading to the coming to earth of the Son of God, the Savior of the world. It is right to be joyful. And yet there are unmistakable parallels to Lent, a time not viewed in such a joyful way.
Both times are seasons of preparation for celebration – in one the celebration of a spectacular birth and the other an equally stunning resurrection. The one is God becoming man for the purpose of redeeming us and making all things new. The other is Jesus conquering death and sin, fulfilling that promise of redemption. We rightly celebrate both through a time of reflection of God’s remarkable grace toward us, and the state of our own lives in response to this grace.
There is a helpful Advent guide for this preparation available from The Common Rule. It helps us lean into this season more thoughtfully, perhaps, than we have done before. The four daily habits are simple and teach us to wait in hope for all that we long to be true of us. Given the anxiety, disappointment, sadness, and turmoil of this past year we need this – for ourselves, but especially for all those who are with us or who look on in amazement as God’s redemptive plan unfolds.
The already but not yet is at the heart of every Advent season. Christ the Savior has already come to give new life, but our experience of the fullness of that life remains before us. “For now, we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) The “not yet” is the hope before us when all has been made right. The celebration of this season is always a return to the inclusiveness of the Gospel, and the preparation to grasp a fuller glory.
During 30 years of residence in Asia, Scott worked in diverse areas of the arts, publishing and missions. He founded a gallery for Chinese contemporary art in Shanghai, as well as models of urban ministry in some of Asia’s global cities. Returning to the US in 2010 Scott has worked to build redemptive networks to shape culture in the most influential cities. He is president of Global Cities
Group, based in New York City.