We come to Advent differently at each stage of our lives, and, at each stage, Advent asks of us all that we are capable of bearing. As children, we (try to) wait patiently for the celebration of Christmas, when we honor the birthday of Jesus—the God who came as a child to Bethlehem on that first Christmas. We are helped by colorful Advent calendars that invite us to count out the days one by one until the day finally arrives. It is hard to wait for 25 days—especially once the presents are placed under the tree. If we are especially serious as children, we want to be waiting for Jesus—but our attention is often more focused on whether our letters arrived in time at the North Pole—and whether our requests will be granted on Christmas morning. Yes, it is a long wait, but it is manageable. We can see the end in sight—and we know that, when the last window of the Advent calendar is opened, Christmas has arrived.
At some point, we learn that Advent as a holy season in the church year was originally focused, not on the first coming of our Lord, but primarily on his Second Coming. It was a time to anticipate the return of Christ to our earth, this time in judgment and triumph, to establish the Kingdom in its full splendor. This is the Advent that we associate with the familiar strains of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. (“The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ and He shall reign forever and ever. . .”) This Advent calls us to prepare for the God who will come—at some point in the future. It is this Advent that Fleming Rutledge focuses on so powerfully in her book, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (Eerdmans, 2018). It is this living hope that calls us to live differently now—consistent with the Hope that we claim to own. This Advent, too, asks of us all that we are capable of bearing! There is no predetermined countdown of the days. Despite human efforts over the centuries to hold God to a timetable, we can hardly presume to know more than the Son, the Second person of the Trinity, who claimed “not to know the times or the seasons” of this Second Advent. So, we learn to be patient—mostly by putting our Hope in the realm of Abstraction. Yes, we believe—and yes, we hope—but it is somewhere out there. And so, even this stage of Advent, too, becomes manageable.
There is another stage in our Advent journey—another invitation to wait—this one perhaps the most mysterious of all. It is the invitation during Advent to make room, not just for the God who has come, not just for the God who will come, but for the God who is waiting to come to us in the midst of each day of our lives. (We hardly know how to think of a God who also waits for us—see, for example, Isaiah 30:18, but see also the story of God’s entire interaction with God’s people since the Garden of Eden.) We also come to know in our lives that this daily coming is not as straightforward as it might first appear. How is it that God, who we know from our theology is “omnipresent”—and we know from our scriptures is “with us”—can sometimes seem so distant—even absent—when we want that God to meet us in a particular way today? We want God to heal our friend or our child or our mother. We want God to bring justice to our society. This year, we especially want God to end the pandemic. And yet, God seems to wait. God comes on God’s own timetable—and for God’s own purposes. We are told they are loving and generous purposes. And so, we too must wait. This is the hardest of all the Advent tests. Waiting on God in today—waiting to see signs of Grace and Mercy and Light—when all around us seems to mirror the growing darkness of December. And yet this is the invitation of this Advent 2020. This is the invitation of today—this day. To put ourselves in a place where we are open to the God who comes to us in ways that we have not chosen and might not even expect. May we find the courage to wait today in expectation of this Advent—the God who yearns to come among us in the very circumstances of this day.
Wishing you an Advent Season to remember!