I drove home to my parents house last Sunday. Apart from the usual stuff, I brought some cases of books and DVDs: I had gone through my shelves and sorted out what I no longer needed, so I could sell it online. It ended up being 50 items! Since I don’t have time to sell each item, I decided to sell the bunch to an online book store warehouse. They don’t give you that much per item, but sale is super easy, and they even offer free shipping. And it still adds up: I made exactly 100€ (about $120) on those 50 things!
So, when I got home, I searched the house for empty boxes and printed the shipping labels (Monday). Put the books and DVDs in their boxes, almost ready to go (Tuesday). But not quite: I had 3 more days left until the delivery would pick everything up. So, that gave me time to finish what I had begun long ago: I had a collection of 4 John Green novels, one and a half of which had yet to be read. I had read “Paper Towns” and “Looking for Alaska”, but I had put “An abundance of Katherines” on the shelf for a while. Stress and school, that’s why. And then, the final roll: “The fault in our Stars”. I read it through in just a few hours. I smiled when Augustus brought Hazel the Orange juice, was sad when Hazel found out her days with him would never be the same, and felt smart when I understood most of what the drunk Dutch author was saying.
But most of all, I was inspired to make the most of the time we have, to find meaning and better yet, radiate meaning to others. So, how does one find meaning? This question has been around since the dawn of civilization. In an epic from ancient Sumer/Babylon, Gilgamesh first felt immortal and unstoppable. But when his best friend Enkidu died, he cried out “will I die too, like Enkidu? What must I do to inherit eternal life?”. Shakespeare’s Hamlet famously said “To be or not to be, that is the question.” And Franz Kafka lets the main character of his novel “The Trial” die “like a dog”, because he failed to take up responsibility. In other words, whether the characters succeed or fail, they all grapple with the question “What matters?”
All this reflection in literature also happens in real life. As a Christian, I feel a deep connection to people when I see them searching for meaning. And as someone who will soon be working in the church, I know that many search for meaning outside of my “place”. I get the impression that most try to find meaning by doing something or another, by “earning” or “uncovering” their own purpose. And while there can be great purpose in saving the environment or having good friends, all things come to an end. But the crazy thing is, the Christian God came to humanity, from his own initiative, “so they may have life, and have it to the full” (The Bible, John 10,10). In other words, he didn’t abandon or even passively wait for us. He came to us.
It’s a tough time right now on a big and small scale. One may think “How could life matter in a time like this?” But it’s also the time before Christmas, which is called “Advent”. “Advent” means “the coming”, and it reminds us that the meaning giver, redeemer, and source of life did not wait for us to come to him. He, namely Jesus Christ, came to us, his “coming” is what Christians celebrate at Christmas. He didn’t come into a perfect world, but into a poor home, with a teen mom and slept in a rustic animal shelter. He didn’t wait for us to get our sh*t together, he came right in the middle of it. But not just to hang out with us, but to provide a way out: Life with God, by faith in him. Something that connects us to one another and to the world, yet can never be taken away. That’s the power of Advent and Christmas: When we were looking to figure things out, he came and made a “figured out” way.