I confess that every year I find it hard to explain exactly what Advent is all about. And I think that somehow this is the point of this season! In this time of waiting, preparation, and yes, even a bit of repenting (remember that purple, the color of Lent, is one of the two acceptable liturgical colors for Advent), we are supposed to realize that our pre-conceived sureties probably won’t hold up.
Advent calls us to open our minds and hearts and see what God has in store. Humility, willingness to learn and change, is a virtue especially appropriate to this time of year.
Let’s begin with the obvious: proper observance of Advent defies the expectations of our broader culture. We say “Happy New Year!” not on January 1 (that is the Feast of the Holy Name), but on the first Sunday of Advent. And everyone around us is counseling “let’s be jolly” and rushing to bring out the Christmas decorations, saturate the airwaves with Christmas music and tv specials, and engage in the usual consumerist frenzy.
Our culture is so eager to get to the good parts that we are pushing the start of the Christmas season further and further back. We can no longer wait for Santa to show up in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Stores now stock shelves with Christmas products even before All Saints’ Eve (commonly called Halloween). In contrast, we Christians must wait, ponder, be penitent.
Patience and moderation are other key virtues cultivated during Advent.
If you look at the lectionary texts for the Sundays of Advent, you’ll see that prophets really come to the fore now. Who and what are prophets? They are spokespersons for God Almighty. This means that before saying a word they must devote a lot of time to prayer and contemplation. Prophets must first take the time to be mystics. As prophetic training comes to fruition in God’s good time, its primary fruit is a new vision. By God’s grace prophets see the world very differently. The Spirit helps them cut through smokescreens and cover-ups and excuses and denial and false hopes as well as despair to see things as they really are.
We often get the impression that prophets are bringers of bad news, of condemnation and coming judgment and disaster. That is certainly true. Prophets show us that we really have gotten ourselves and the whole planet into quite a bad mess. But it is not the whole truth. With the new lenses God provides prophets can also see very unexpected help coming. They proclaim well-founded hope even in the worst circumstances (and remember that most of the Biblical writers lived in terrible times, as do most people around the world today).
Prophets know that the God of unfathomable, inexhaustible Love will always have the last word.
In Advent, let’s listen to the prophets. Let’s consider sharing their vocation, as our baptismal vows clearly imply we should. Let’s devote more time to listening to God. We self-reliant frontier people, rugged individualists, citizens of one of history’s great empires, must hear this: we need Jesus to come.
If this truth can’t get into our bones, Christmas will mean little more than unwrapping more stuff, much of which we really don’t need, and once more overeating and trying to manage family dynamics. We’ll miss out on the amazing fact that the Creator and Ruler of our vast universe loves us so much, in spite of the mess we have made of everything, that the Holy One became one of us, a vulnerable poor babe born in a stable.
If we don’t get Advent right, it’s like beginning to read a novel with its third chapter and then wondering what on earth is going on. Christ the Incarnate Lord comes into a broken world in which people cannot see clearly and have lost their way. Advent sets the stage. Let’s allow God to tell the whole story from the beginning, all the way to the end already anticipated on the first Sunday of Advent: Jesus is coming again to bring all God’s good purposes to fulfillment.
This article was original published on December 4, and sent out as the BKSM Monday Memo.
- December 4, Monday Memo: mailchi.mp/6e8a92bd0533/bksms-monday-memo-an-advent-meditation-from-the-dean?e=fff49821ff
- Bishop Kemper School for Ministry Website: www.bishopkemperschool.org