From the Rector
At last, the church calendar has caught up with the world and our mood. Advent is here.
The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” Advent is a season when we think about what’s coming. The most obvious focus of our anticipation is the joyful holiday of Christmas, and many of us have already begun doing the things that we like to do to get ready. Put up decorations. Send out cards. Watch favorite movies. Crank the seasonal music.
I used to be an Advent fascist, and scoff at those who put up their tree so far before Christmas. Having kids has lessened my militancy about such things, and I have grown to appreciate the eagerness for the joy this season offers. So, you’ll not get condescension from me if you’ve already hauled out the proverbial holly.
But I do believe it is profoundly important that we not stuff Advent in the closet when we go to bring out the Christmas decorations. Because the thing about Advent is that, despite its reputation as a season of preparation for Christmas – for Jesus’ annual birthday party – its emphasis isn’t on the coming of the baby in Bethlehem as much as the coming of Jesus the Judge at the end of all things. That’s, at least, what the readings and prayers want us to focus on during this all-too-brief season. This Sunday, we won’t hear Jesus say, “Keep watch! The anniversary of my birth may sneak up on you like a thief in the night.” Instead we’ll hear the traditional admonition from Jesus that we always get on the First Sunday of Advent, about the day when the fullness of the Kingdom of God will be known and the Son of Man will return in glory to reign with justice.
If I’m honest, it’s that Lord that I most yearn for, not the sweet little 8 lb, 6 oz. newborn baby Jesus in his little golden fleece diapers (to quote Ricky Bobby). I yearn for the Lord whose reign will overcome the lingering stain of sin and evil in this world. I yearn for the righting of every wrong, the wiping of every tear, the making new of all things. Our holiday revelry can fill us with joy and nurture our love, but it is the full power of God that promises the healing and transformation of all the broken places of our world.
It’s an interesting phenomenon, the way most of the Christians of the world will set their hopes this season on the return of Christ, with the notable exception of most western, wealthy Christians. We are the ones who are uncomfortable with pondering Jesus’ return, perhaps because we think we already have it figured out. We don’t “need” Jesus to come back, thank you very much. Meanwhile, the rest of the Christian world, much of which lives in places of vulnerability to violence, poverty, and environmental catastrophe is praying fervently for God to “tear open the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1). People who are willing to walk thousands of miles, carrying their children, in order to seek new lives in a country that tear gases them, have less interest in holiday sweetness than in the return of the King.
So, even as we all welcome the arrival of a season that offers so much happiness, let us remember to look beyond nostalgia and merrymaking to the end of time. Yes, there’s the Incarnation to celebrate, and there’s plenty of good reason to rejoice at the first coming of God’s Son. The Incarnation is desperately needed salvation, and every year we must “repeat the sounding joy.” But the work of renewing the world through the coming reign of God isn’t complete, and we must keep our focus on what is still to come.