It is time for me to think again …
… about Advent.
For most people, if we think of Advent at all, we think about Advent calendars, where we open a small box each day for the candy inside. They line themselves up to get us ready for Christmas Day, and perhaps the small candy itself is only preparing our stomachs for the Christmas Feast to come.
Yet, if we relegate Advent to that calendar with candy, we have missed out on an opportunity for a spiritual awakening.
Yes, Advent is the four-week period before Christmas. Within liturgical traditions, it also begins a new church year. Yes, Advent is about waiting and preparation. But waiting and preparing for what?
I confess that I too often have been guilty of viewing Advent only with “Christmas lenses.” I saw Advent as a time of waiting, but a waiting for the birth to happen, a waiting for Christmas. I treated Advent like the eighth month of pregnancy, when the only thing you can think about is, “When is this baby finally going to arrive?”
But Advent invites us even more to prepare for the Second Coming of Jesus. Advent joyfully anticipates a time when all things will be made new. Advent invites us to prepare our lives to be aligned with God’s inbreaking Reign.
Advent invites us to join in where we see the Spirit at work, where God is preparing a way. When we see works of love, peace, mercy, and justice, we join in and declare, “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel ….”
Advent invites us to look beyond the cynicism and despair of the world and to see where hope is breaking through. We do not have to be defined by hatred and division. We look to the God who loves us and makes us one. And when we see how the former things are passing away and the new is coming, we sing once again, “Oh come, Oh come, Emmanuel ….”
Advent invites us to see the world in a new way. When we are tempted to see the world in despair, Advent invites us to see God’s hope for the world. When we are tempted to see the brokenness of the world, Advent invites us to see God’s healing and wholeness. When we are tempted to see the division in the world, Advent invites us to God’s unity. When we are tempted to see hatred and exclusion, Advent invites us to see God’s all-inclusive, unconditional love. And even knowing that all this will never completely be fulfilled in our lifetime, even so we pray, “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel ….”
Advent also invites us to see that Jesus not only came two thousand years ago. Jesus will not only come again sometime in the future. Jesus comes to us each and every day. Sometimes Jesus comes in expected ways. Jesus comes to us in worship, in prayer, in communion, in baptism. But then – just like that manger so long ago – Jesus also comes in unexpected ways. Jesus comes in a sunset. Jesus comes in a smile of a stranger or a hug from a loved one. Jesus comes when we help someone. Jesus comes when we receive help from others. Sometimes Jesus is revealed in a moment of quiet that overwhelms us. And as we keep our eyes and our hearts open to the countless ways that Jesus is revealed, we live out the prayer, “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel ….”
So in this season of Advent, let us move away from simply awaiting the birth of Christmas. Let us instead embrace the next Coming of Christ and how our lives are transformed in anticipation of it.