The thing about Advent is….

Jesus is coming - look busy

The thing about Advent is…

…that the readings tend to make it feel rather more about the second coming of Jesus than the first coming; there is more apocalypse than incarnation.  Great! At least all the judgement and warnings are a useful antidote to the Christmas Cheer that seems to begin as soon as Remembrance is over.  But how many of us are sufficiently self-controlled and self-motivated that we can do without any kind of oversight and accountability? Many of us need the promise of reward or the threat of punishment if we are give of our best, and I know that I’m among those who have signed off from twitter for a couple of hours in order to get something important done, by telling all my twitter followers to check up on me and ask me when I come back online whether I actually finished what I was supposed to have done.  The Holman Hunt painting of Jesus, standing at the door and knocking, can feel like both a promise and a threat, and the caption that many have added (as I have) may be more of a realistic statement about our own inability to motivate ourselves than we’d like to think.  The question, ‘if Jesus were to come again right now, would he be delighted with how I am spending my time and energy and gifts?’ will always be an interesting and challenging one. What we do during Advent, and Christmas that matter, although it may be different from usual, must still keep the integrity of who we are and not be at odds with what we do the rest of the time.

The thing about Advent is…

…that we still live in a state of longing and yearning; the old access card adverts encouraged us to ‘take the waiting out of wanting’ and countless sermons since have encouraged us to put it back again. But the truth is that the world is very, very aware of the fact that we are waiting, and yearning and wanting in so very many ways.  Those who sit in darkness long for light, those who are hungry long to be fed, many who are struggling financially long for the security of paid employment.  And those who are in debt long for a day – which must seem as if it will never come – when their debts will be cleared, when all payments have been made, when they finally own the things they’ve bought.  There is a lot of waiting and a lot of wanting, and a lot of yearning around. And that’s even before you factor in the years of faithful prayer for peace, for justice, for our common humanity and accountability to one another to win in the eternal battle with greed, self-centredness, and fear.  We are living in a world that longs for things to be renewed, healed, and transformed, and no amount of credit and quick fixes replace the hard work of striving, praying, urging, speaking out, and doing the work of renewal that God desires for us.

The thing about Advent is…

…that at the start of the church’s year we look back as well as forward. We remember with thanksgiving, with repentance, with awe and respect, with questions and doubt and with diligence on all the time before the incarnation: the prophets, the kings and queens, and the patriarchs and matriarchs all have their own place within the huge, overarching story of salvation, and our own place in that story is but a tiny  moment: our own stories are part-written, part-unknown, just as the world’s story is part-written, part-unknown.  We can look at the stories of the past and see in them – even the awful bits and the ugly bits – the patient purposes of God unfolding. We may look at our own lives and see no such pattern, yet we must continue to grasp the truth that we are part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world just as are any of the people we celebrate and revere from our faith’s heritage.

The thing about Advent is…

…that it only makes sense as a season of preparation for something more. Advent is always under threat from an early Christmas, but it is also under threat from a Christmas that has become less than it should be.  The momentous prophetic words that we’ll hear over the next few weeks only make sense if we celebrate Christmas in a way that honours their hope for the breadth and depth and height and scope of God’s love in Christ – and that’s whether we’re anticipating the annual celebration of his incarnation or the promise of his final coming among us to renew the earth at the end of all things.


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