It’s time to
Sunday marks the beginning of a season that calls us to practice something that is hard for most of us: waiting. It is the season of Advent. The word Advent means “coming” but I suppose we could also call the season “waiting” because that is what we do during Advent. We wait.
For what do we wait? For whom?
We wait for the coming of the Christ.
“But, didn’t he already come?”
Yes, that is what Christians believe. And, yet…we look around and see pain, hunger, corruption, and greed. If Christ, the redeemer, has come…why does the world still look unredeemed?
There are many answers to this question but one answer is: We are still waiting. The king who came...is still coming. This is a mystery in which it seems there are more questions than answers. Christians do not like that. We want answers.
Advent is a time to make friends with unanswered questions. It is a time to quiet the noise so we can hear the questions; it is a time to sit in the midst of the tension those questions create. The tension awakens a longing. The longing cries out, often without words, “Come, Lord.”
In our time, Christians quote nativity narratives during this season—we cite the early chapters of Matthew and Luke, with a measure of Isaiah and pinches of the minor prophets thrown into the mix. We like the parts about fulfillment. We like the part where the angels make an announcement to the shepherds.
But what do they announce?
Do we have peace?
No. When we have peace, we will not read about carjackings and the health care crisis; when we have the peace God intends there will be no such thing as death row and deception.
We are still waiting.
A better text to mark the season can be found in Romans 8:
“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption…the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” -Romans 8:22-25
This is not our typical “Christmas season” text but it is well-suited to reality. There is much here to embrace. Slowly savor these formative words and phrases. You have time; we are waiting.
“wait for it patiently”
I understand that it is important to prepare for Christmas by making sure we have all our gifts purchased in good time, but as we hurry to shop maybe we can also find a way to be quick to wait.
Stillness and simplicity come to mind. This season of waiting is certainly counter-cultural. It is hard to wait, to be still, to pare down activity and shopping.
But it is good for us to do so.
The word “redeem” carries with it the idea of “buying.” When Christians say that Jesus is our Redeemer, they mean that Jesus has “bought us back.” We belong to him now.
I think of that scene in Les Miserables where the kind, old priest refuses to charge Jean Valjean with theft. After the police leave, he tells Jean Valjean that he has just bought his life.
That is the picture of what Christ does for us. We are guilty but he buys our innocence.
What mercy! What grace! What freedom! With such a redemption, what more do we need?
As we hunt for holiday bargains, I invite you to ask this question. It is an uncomfortable question—certainly counter-cultural—but I do believe it is a good question for us.
“With such a redemption, what more do we need?”
Waiting does not preclude working. During this season of waiting, we consider those aspects of our world that are still “groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” And, we face the hard truth that just sitting and waiting for “the God who is coming” misses the point. In this in-between period we are given work to do.
At the end of the first Advent, Jesus commissioned us to do the work he modeled for us: heal the sick, feed the poor, “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.” He modeled forgiveness and grace, mercy and justice. He modeled humility and gentleness. He modeled truth, beauty and goodness—all categories that are up for debate in our departments of Philosophy. (We like to call them metaphysics, aesthetics and ethics to skirt the heart of the matter.)
The model of Jesus, however, is so wonderful because it does two things at once for us—and these two things seem to oppose one another.
On the one hand, the model of Jesus lays to rest the question, “How should we then live?” We have an example in the person of Christ. He shows us how to live. In Jesus, we have a crystal clear picture of truth, beauty and goodness.
On the other hand, the model of Jesus stirs a hornet’s nest in us because it begs the question, “How should we then live?” His model is one of freedom. He gives you the task of discovering how you will uniquely embody his character.
The model of Jesus also stirs us to a hoping kind of action because we see that our lives do not match up to his yet. We see that his will is not done “on earth as it is in heaven”—yet.
And, we see that that is precisely the work he has given us to do. When we say “Amen” at the end of speaking The Lord’s Prayer we are saying, “So be it—and empower us to make it so, to cooperate with God in making it so.” There is a tension implicit in calling out “Amen” because when we say it we are asking God to “make it so” while God’s “Amen” replies: “You make it so.” God’s will is that our will would cooperate with his will.
So, God forgives when we forgive. God feeds the hungry when we feed the hungry. We do not need to wait for God to do this because God has given that task to us.
What does this have to do with Advent?
If it seems like peace is a long time coming, work and wait—and you will see Jesus in the faces around you and—Lord willing—yours.
Advent is a good time for waiting and working…which is to say, hoping and redeeming.
I invite you to make friends with waiting these next four weeks.
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