Advent is the beginning of the Church’s calendar. It’s the beginning of a new year. It’s a reminder that renewal, rebirth, and beginning again are common, necessary elements to not only our lives but to the journey of Christian discipleship. Yes, we really can begin again.
Liturgically, or in the life and activity of the Church, Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas – for the birth of the Savior. Interestingly, it’s also a time to remember and prepare for the second-coming of Jesus. Perhaps this might seem a bit confusing, but I think it is perfect. As we simultaneously prepare for the birth and the second-coming of Jesus, we are forced to acknowledge that we live in an already/not-yet Kingdom, that our story is one that is fulfilled and yet unfulfilled, that sin, suffering, and evil are not vanquished yet, but are being vanquished. We live in the time between the times. Advent is a key to assuming a posture and an imagination capable of dwelling in just such a paradoxical place. If we want to celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost coherently, we must begin, again, with Advent.
There are a few themes at work in Advent that are worth noticing. First, Advent begins in a mood that is somber, silent, and is pregnant with longing and possibility and un-fulfilled hope. Like the weather for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Advent typically begins as bleak, cold, and chilly with only a fool’s hope for warmth, safety, and more than anything else for God to break the long silence. Advent hearkens back to the end of the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, a period characterized by God’s uncharacteristic silence. For around 400 years the God who was so quick to speak to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their Israelite descendants grew silent. Fear, foreboding, and sadness were wanton. Until, one night, in a remote, overlooked, scandalous place a child was born . . . but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
A second theme is looking forward. This silent and somber season is overlaid with anticipation and hope as the Church, and indeed all of Creation, looks forward with great anticipation to the new thing that God would do in the little cave stable in Jerusalem. Advent is a time of optimism, expectation, and anticipation. Advent introduces the rest of the Christian year very well, and thus our story of faith and the call to discipleship.
Advent is a time to renew or restart – or perhaps start – the Christian journey of discipleship. Even if one has heard the story many times, Advent reminds us that our whole story is about Jesus, that we have no hope apart from him, and that His ways – God’s ways – are so utterly strange and foreign to us that we must reorient ourselves around Him if we are to understand and follow at all. Advent provides a perfect opportunity for clergy and for parents to get back on track, so to speak, by re-presenting the Gospel of Jesus to the little ones of faith as well. How else will anyone know, love, and serve Jesus if we don’t tell His story. How can we tell his story well if we, ourselves, do not embrace it, live it out, and long for its fulfillment?
Finally, Advent is fraught with eschatological hope, or hope for how the story will end, as it longs for Jesus’s return and teaches us to do the same. In the same way that they needed Jesus thousands of years ago, we need Him today. I’m convinced that if we observe Advent faithfully, we will be far more prepared to receive Him faithfully, far more possessed of the desire for deliverance, redemption, and restoration than for escape. Remember, we pray that things would be “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” Advent gives us a glimpse of what that might be like, reminds us that’s how it used to be, and teaches us to long for nothing less.
Will you observe Advent with me? Check back here for a short devotion each day during this Advent Season, beginning on Sunday, November 27th. These posts will also be posted on Renton Church of the Nazarene’s Facebook page.