I have never perfectly embraced the traditional nature of Advent. I was taught in seminary that Advent is a penitential season. A period of reflection and repentance before the great feasts of Christmas and Epiphany.
As a great lover of all things Christmas, I have not wanted to wait to sing Christmas carols. While I don’t want to hear holiday music in October, on the day after Thanksgiving let it blast I say. For those who practice Advent, the month that precedes Christmas means properly preparing for Christmas Eve and Day.
What if it isn’t about that at all? What if Advent is a deeper thing… a more unsettling thing than we have practiced it?
I am, as you likely know, writing this from outside the church this morning. I have not attended worship in a church since my last Sunday in a church’s pulpit. But I have thought deeply and long about the season and the cycle these weeks invite us to observe.
Advent reminds me that the coming of Jesus was not enough. Yes, the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest.” But is the world any better than it was those centuries ago? Is there less suffering, less evil, than in the world of the first century?
As I journey through Advent 2016, I understand for perhaps the first time with both heart and mind that the coming for which I wait is the second and final one. For the “hopes and fears of all the years” to come to their ultimate fruition.
God’s purposes are still in the “not yet” column of the cosmic timeline. Even at my best, my life does not reflect the kingdom of heaven. The world falls short of it too.
God comes to us in the now, though. To hearts that invite him. To lives that open to him. To circumstances yielded to him. But the Advent of Christ remains a partial thing.
“For outlandish creatures like us, on our way to a heart, a brain, and courage, Bethlehem is not the end of our journey but only the beginning – not home but the place through which we must pass if ever we are to reach home at last.”
Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat