It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The irony of hearing this classic Christmas tune played overhead while simultaneously seeing images of teargas fired on immigrant families trying to cross over the southern border for asylum should hopefully not be lost on us. Department stores open with extended hours and GIANT DEALS that cannot be passed up. Humanity, on the other hand, appears to be on short supply—dignity for one’s neighbors in need is on extreme back order. Get me more compassion, pronto!!! As pre-manufactured joy is flourishing (likely also Made in China), real flesh and bone hope diminishes with these darkening days. It can’t get here quick enough. The question is: What will the it be when it finally arrives? That new must-have item I’ve desperately been coveting ever since I first saw it blasted on every other commercial, or perhaps the long-awaited incarnate one who will bring about change—complete cosmic transformation—now and in the time to come? Not a moment too soon, this coming Sunday brings with it the season of Advent which marks the beginning of a new year in the church’s calendar. Whereas the world around us is gearing up for the end—in celebration of Christmas, the close of another tax year, or for some the perceived apocalypse; we are starting anew cross-eyed, with one looking to an unexpected birth that begins the gospel narrative, and the other an undisclosed return transitioning to the next more glorious chapter. Which is clearer? 1? Or 2? 1? Or 2? Beyond all of the decorations and traditions, with its blurred lines Advent can leave a person feeling dizzy. Remind me again: are we talking about back then and there, here and now, or some future time God knows where?
What in the hell are we doing?!?! Just when you think this crazy train has finally arrived to its last depot, the black smoke spews out from the stack sky-high yet again. All aboard! Last stop: sure and certain damnation! Is anyone else tired of pinching themselves to wake up? Seems like we’re taking Dante’s Inferno literally as we keep carving new sub-terrain levels on our quest for the bottom. How fitting, that amidst our self-inflicted despair, the Spirit of Change would draw us into a time of eager anticipation and communal hopefulness. With each passing week of Advent, we light one (another) candle to watch for Messiah—waiting for the coming Christ child, who promises to bring us forgiveness and life anew. This, however, is but half of the season’s intent. Simultaneously, as we pull out our Precious Moments nativity scenes and argue about when the bearded wise guys from the East join the picture—wait til Epiphany!—we are encouraged to set our sight, with the eyes of dreamers (not to be confused with DACA), on that unknown day when the Crucified and Risen Christ will return to raise the dead, renew creation, and restore God’s kingdom here in our midst. Days like today, I imagine God is receiving an abundance of prayers appealing to expedite the day of the Lord. Can you overnight it, please? Advent is a critical time in the life of faith where we wrestle with how God chooses to enter into the world—a helpless baby born in a barn—and yet also promises to return again as the firstborn of the dead and ruler of the kings of the earth (Rev. 1:5). In this nebulous time, we stand betwixt and between (to use a former professor’s favorite phrase) our present despondence and God’s illuminating future.
This December, before you get all bent out of shape regarding what design your Starbucks Christmas cup dons or up in arms about keeping Yeshua in X-mas, enter into Advent. The news will continue to be fed (dare I say, fueled) by the endless nonsense going on around us. God-willing, the sun will continue to rise and set as it has so many times before. The holiday cheer will inevitably seep in, like frosting between the seams of an amateur assembled gingerbread house. I know we’ve each got our lists of to-do’s and we’re checking them twice (every hour…at least). Don’t fast forward through this most critical part. Let the season of Advent take hold of you like Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Snatched by the spirit of Christmas Past, enter into the scene leading up to that holy night—filled with its twists and turns, chaotic characters and surprise settings. Enlightened by the spirit of Christmas Present, step back in this moment and look out into the world around you with fresh eyes to see and question today. How did we get here? Is this as God intends us to live? Why do we continue to silently let these despicable things happen? Led by the spirit of Christmas Future, let your imagination loose to ponder with faith what God is bringing about and where we are being called to plug into this unfolding work of the gospel. Advent is much more than preparing for 8lbs 6oz newborn infant Jesus. It’s a time for us to hold up to the light what is in prophetic confrontation and hopeful expectation of what is to come. The sin, death, and despair we know all too well is not the final picture. Peace, resurrection life, hope made manifest—these are the promises of God’s future that we cling to in this present time as we await the one who is making all things new again. Be aware, Advent is coming. Let it take hold of you.
– Pastor Andrew