Peace on Earth? I’m not feeling it.
It’s the night before the night before Christmas. And, as is my Christmas tradition, I’m depressed.
Yes, I’m one of those people whose mental health takes a dive after Thanksgiving. While last Thanksgiving both of my grandmothers died within eight days of each other, most years my anxiety and feelings of futility have no solid basis in any identifiable, external cause. Well, no identifiable, external cause except everything.
(For those of you who don’t have the good fortune to suffer depression, or at least to marry someone who suffers depression—love you, Honey!—the reason that you feel down fluctuates wildly between “I don’t know” and “everything.”)
A handful of years ago my family “fell” into the liturgical tradition of the church catholic. This, in part, made Christmas safe for me; partly because I don’t have to have a holly, jolly Christmas until the evening of the 24th (because the time before that isn’t Christmas at all, but Advent), and partly because, even then, there’s a certain solemnity to a religious Christmas.
This year, however, it’s the season of Advent itself that has gotten me down.
Or maybe I’m just doing Advent really well. It’s kind of supposed to be a little depressing. As one of my favorite bloggers puts it, Advent is “the ancient, autumnal interval of darkness and foreboding with its achy uncertainty blanketing landscapes both inner and outer.“ (Looks like someone else might be a wee depressive around the holidays.)
I think Advent is like a miniature Lent. Retrospectively, I’m not sure I knew what Easter was before I discovered Lent. I wonder if other evangelical Christians thought like me back then: “So what? Christians are always celebrating the resurrection. And without any stupid bunny, too.” But at the Easter Vigil following my first Lent, I nearly exploded with joy during a routine recitation of the Nicene Creed. When I said, “On the third day he rose again, in accordance with the Scriptures,” I felt like I might have had fireworks shooting out of my chest, Katy Perry-style.
(**Note to APA: you might want to include “Adult male linking to a Katy Perry video” as a symptom of dysthymia in the DSM-6.)
But here I am, at the end of Advent, and I seriously doubt that my mood is going to improve tomorrow night. (Actually, Christmas Eve is tonight. Insomnia, like linking to Katy Perry videos, is a warning sign of mental disorder.)
In the suspense of Advent and the throes of melancholia, I’m going to admit something that most Christians would probably not want me to admit. And it’s this: 2,000 years after the the miracle birth, it’s possible to doubt that the world is better for it. Not for some cranky atheist, but for a person, like me, who actually believes that Jesus is the hope of the world, the fullest revelation of Godself. Not just possible, but probable. Frequently. Maybe even annually.
I can believe that angels proclaimed “Peace on earth, and goodwill towards men” to poor Palestinian shepherds. I can believe that an unmarried teenaged peasant-girl believed the word that her mysterious pregnancy was the beginning of God’s rescue of her people; bringing down the powerful, lifting up the oppressed, and making things, in general, awesome.
What I can’t believe is that, nearly 2,000 years later, the earth seems to need peace just as much as ever and has a fair (?) share of powerful haves and oppressed have-nots. What would those shepherd think about “peace on earth” if they saw the last bloody century? Would Mary still insist that God has brought down the powerful and filled the hungry with good things after surveying even a first-world nation’s unemployment, housing crisis, and secret prisons? How sometimes the killing and injustice is done by those who self-identify as followers of her son, the messiah?
Peace on earth? I have a hard time having good will towards the people in my own family.
By faith, I’m supposed to see how God’s humble kingdom, like a mustard seed, is slowly growing and spreading its branches. How God is among the humble, among the poor, among the faithful, slowly making beauty from ashes.
But I’m not feeling it.
It feels like I’m waiting, like Mary’s people, for God to do something. Except I have the disadvantage of history. To believe and live as though God has done something can seem like lunacy…even to the faithful.