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)