How is Advent meaningful when we know the message and the story so well? Because Advent is not just about remembering God’s story, but rather a time to have our lives undone and rewritten into God’s story.
As I have the opportunity to travel, I increasingly enjoy looking for places to eat that are not chains or franchises. Food tells a story, and as the tag-line of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” host Guy Fieri goes, we need to “slow down, and take a look around.” When we move beyond intake of food as mere mechanism for survival, and instead look at the intake of food as participating in culture, story, and creativity, the idea of eating a meal becomes a whole adventure in and of itself.
Slow down, and take a look around. It sounds like it could have a lot more application than just food. December is here already, and with it comes the frenetic pace to finish the year. There is no shortage of things to occupy our time. And of course, the church will roll out her best in décor and art, as we focus our time on “Advent.” But what is “Advent,” exactly? We know the story. We can nearly recite all the verses. The songs and scenery hardly change. How do we fight simple rote and nostalgia with fresh eyes and ears? More than merely remembering Jesus’ first coming, Advent is a time to long for Jesus’ return.
The time of advent is a time of preparation. It is a time to slow down, look around, at both the world and ourselves and be reminded of why Jesus had to come. We are a sin-sick people. The aftershocks of the fall are all around us, like the waves in the sea. War, sickness, anger, greed, selfishness, injustice; all are things that are part and parcel of a world in need of salvation from itself. It was this world that Jesus was born into to save. It is this world that Jesus will come again to in order to transform and fully and finally redeem.
Dr. Robert Webber writes this about Advent, where he states:
Advent is a time when we ask, even plead with God not to lave us alone, for when God leaves us to our own choices and turns us over to our own ways, we are certain to drift from him. Our indifference to God is soon turned into spiritual boredom, a boredom that leads to spiritual inertia and ultimate death to spiritual realities. Advent is a time to cry, ‘O God, turn me away from my indifference, create in me a heart of repentance, and lead me to the waters of spiritual refreshment.’… (Ancient Future Time, 43)
Dr. Webber goes on to say this:
In Advent we celebrate the beginning and the ending of Christ’s victory over the powers of evil, and we call upon God to accomplish that victory in our own lives, to break in on us, to be born in our hearts, and to create us anew. This is the message of Isaiah to us: a Savior is coming not only to Israel but to the whole world. This is the message that becomes intensified by John the Baptist and Mary, who encounter us with the dramatic call to an expectation of the Christ child who will accomplish the [final] redemption of all things. (Ancient-Future Time, 44)
As we journey through this season of Advent together, find time to slow down. Find time to look at your world and your heart. As we encounter all the pain and frustration of this world, know that God is coming. As the hymn “Joy to the World” proclaims:
No more let sins and sorrows grow/nor thorns infest the ground/He comes to make His blessings flow/Far as the curse is found/Far as the curse is found/Far as the curse is found!
The promise of Advent is the promise of one who will stop at nothing to pursue, recover, redeem, and restore all that which is lost. I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded of that.
Merciful God, who sent your messengers, the prophets, to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
(From The Book of Common Prayer)
The sacrament is made to carry with it an objective force, so far as its principal design is concerned. It is not simply suggestive, commemorative, or representational. It is not a sign, a picture, deriving its significance from the mind of the beholder. The virtue which it possesses is not put into it by the faith of the worshipper in the first place, to be taken out of it again by the same faith, in the same form. It is not imagined of course in the case that the ordinance can have any virtue without faith, that it can confer grace in a purely mechanical way. All thought of the opus operatum, in this sense, is utterly repudiated. Still faith does not properly clothe the sacrament with its power. It is the condition of its efficacy for the communicant, but not the principle of the power itself. This belongs to the institution in its own nature. The signs are bound to what they represent, not subjectively simply in the thought of the worshipper, but objectively, by the force of a divine appointment.
J.W. Nevin, The Mystical Presence, pp. 67-68 (emphasis added)
This power belongs to Jesus, who has so ordained to work and minister his grace through the institution.
As quoted at the end of J.W. Nevin’s The Mystical Presence, pp. 314:
“They are preposterous,” says Calvin, “who allow in this matter nothing more, than they have been able to reach with the measure of their understanding. When they deny that the flesh and blood of Christ are exhibited to us in the Holy Supper, Define the mode, they say, or you will not convince us. But as for myself, I am filled with amazement at the greatness of the mystery. Nor am I ashamed, with Paul, to confess in admiration my own ignorance. For how much better is that, than to extenuate with my carnal sense what the apostle pronounces a high mystery!
The term spiritual as here used, it must always be borne in mind, carries in it no opposition to the idea of substance; nor does it refer to the person of Christ simply as it is spirit, and not body. On the contrary, it has regard to the inmost substance of his body itself. All imagination of a material intermingling of Christ’s flesh with ours is indeed carefully removed; but it is only to assert the more positively a real participation in the true life of his flesh as such. The communion is with the Savior’s body and blood, the very essence of which under a spiritual form, is carried over into the believer’s person. If this be not the meaning of the Westminster Assembly; if in the use of language, borrowed here so plainly from the creed of Calvin and the Reformed Church generally in the sixteenth century, the Assembly intended to signify after all something quite different from that creed, a mere moral union with Christ for instance, a communication with him in his divine nature simply, or an appropriation only of the merits of his life and death; it will be found very hard, in the first place to put any intelligible sense whatever into their words, and more difficult still, in the second place, to vindicate the interpretation as worthy either of their wisdom or their truth.
J.W. Nevin, 1846, The Mystical Presence 112-113
“They that worthily communicate in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, do therein feed upon the body and blood of Christ—truly and really.” (Westminster Catechism). All this the modern Puritan view utterly repudiates, as semipopish mysticism. It will allow no real participation of Christ’s person in the Lord’s Supper, under any form: but least of all under the form of his humanity. Such communion as it is willing to admit, it limits to the presence of Christ in his divine nature, or to the energy he puts forth by his Spirit. As for all that is said about his body and blood, it is taken to be mere figure, intended to express the value of his sufferings and death. With his body in the strict sense, his life as incarnate, formerly on earth and now in heaven, we can have no communion at all, except in the way of remembering what was endured in it for our salvation. The flesh in any other view profiteth nothing; it is only the Spirit that quickeneth. The language of the Calvinistic confessions on this subject, is resolved into bold, violent metaphor, that comes in the end to mean almost nothing.
J.W. Nevin, 1846, The Mystical Presence, 146-147