This waiting season

Advent is drawing to an end – to the climax of Christmas day when we celebrate the birth of Christ.   I thought I would share the final essay I submitted for my Theology class since I now have been marked on it and that bit of anxiety and waiting period is over for me.  If you want to read it all, click on  continue reading   (sorry for the American spellings – the school is USAian).

We Wait in Expectation

Almighty God, give all of us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.[1]

Recently, I was asked to reflect on the purpose and meaning of Advent with some young children from the neighborhood around our church. The children had no idea that a season of Advent existed. Their preparations for the coming season of Christmas were centered around what they wanted from Santa not on the coming celebration of the birth of Christ. Anticipation and waiting meant counting down the days till Santa came.

The majority of adults living in North America wait in much the same way that children do. They wait for the Christmas party, the gift giving, the feasting and family times that have become part of our culture. And there is nothing wrong with any of these things but I wonder if the original meaning of the word “Advent” as preparation for someone who is coming has been hijacked by a meaning more close to “prepare to self indulge.” Its meaning as a time of preparation for the arrival of Christ has mostly been lost, certainly from the experience of the general public. Reclaiming the four weeks before Christmas as a preparatory season for the event of Christmas and for the church’s preparation for Christ’s second coming, restores its proper place in the life of the church.

For the church, the waiting and preparation during the season we call Advent has great significance. We await one of the church’s big celebratory days – the day of Christ’s birth celebration. We prepare to remember Christ’s coming to earth, born into our common humanity.

Advent invites us to look back at the prophesies and hopes of Israel as they are recorded in the Old Testament. In this season of waiting we recall the stories of the people of God as they waited for the coming of their messiah and foretold his arrival. We return to the ancient stories of hope. We go back to the beginning of time when evil corrupted God’s good creation and God set a plan of redemption in place to free us from the sin we had fallen to. We celebrate the fulfillment of this hope in the coming of Christ. But we don’t stop there. We look forward to the fulfillment of God’s plans for his people, ponder our future and Christ’s coming again.

Returning to the Old Testament prophesies reminds us of the characteristics of the expected messiah. We read of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53 and in those words recognize the foretelling of our Savior, Jesus the Christ. Isaiah 9:7 reminds us of how the Hebrew people longed for a righteous king and Micah 5:2 foretells that this ruler will originate in Bethlehem. Revisiting these ancient writings during Advent helps us to situate the story of Christ’s birth in its context within the larger story of the people of God.

During the season of Advent, the church remembers the pivotal point of the entry of God into human life in human flesh. We are called to consider the mystery of God’s plan for our redemption from the forces of evil which overpower us. God did not remain outside our earthly realm, acting from a distance. God became a human being through the normal human birth process experiencing human life as one of us. Advent is a time to ponder the mystery of the triune God desiring such an intimate relationship with us. Such love by God for God’s creation and for us as his creatures is unique to the Christian faith and both a cause to celebrate and a reason to wonder at its mystery.

Advent also calls the church to prepare for the second coming of Christ. We do not celebrate the birth of a great religious leader who lived a good life and now is gone forever. We celebrate Christ who in his birth, life, dying and rising again inaugurated his reign over the earth. Christ is risen, Christ is alive and Christ will come again. He did not leave us alone but sent his spirit empowering the church to function as his body, carrying on God’s work until that day when Christ comes again. The church waits and prepares for that day. Peace, joy and love are promises we expect to experience when Christ returns and establishes the kingdom of God. Advent reminds us that we live in this hope.

Advent is the season which marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the church. It is a season of new beginnings for the people of God, the turning point towards the inauguration of a new Kingdom. God’s people need the rhythms of seasons in our calendar. The two seasons of waiting – Advent and Lent – bring us to Christmas and Easter – two climactic events in the church year. As each year passes and we observe these times, we are reminded of these key events in our life together as God’s people. The celebration of these events helps us to remember the reasons behind our faith expressions and strengthens our faith as the church waits and remembers together.

There are sacred seasons to remember. Advent is not just waiting for Santa, mad preparations of buying gifts and counting down the days till Christmas. This season is a time for retelling the whole history of God’s people, a celebration of life with God now and a reminder that we still wait in expectation, preparing for Christ to come again. “For yet in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay;” (Heb 10:37 NRSV)

[1] Tickle, Phyllis, The Divine Hours, Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime (New York: Doubleday 2000), 291

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