Advent in Us: A Special Time of Anticipation
Those involved in retail know well the anticipation that builds as we move toward Black Friday, the day struggling businesses finally begin to move out of the red and approach profitability. The ka-ching of the cash register is a sweet sound for those who make a living in sales. For those who see marketplace work as a high calling, we are not ashamed of it.
Ahh, but yet. The annual “how-many-shopping-days-til-Christmas” reminders have captured our consciences and colored our imaginations: we can hardly think about Advent in ways other than a graceless counting-down-the-days-until the ultimate consumer fest of gift-giving. Of course, gift giving (and getting) isn’t a bad thing, but our peculiar North American fetish of extreme gift-giving and hyper-materialism has caused many to cry out, “Whose birthday is it, anyway?”
During the Christmas season, we want to stay true to our deepest convictions. In order to do so, we need to reconsider how we think about time, seasons, and what it means to anticipate. The shopping season has subverted our sense of liturgical time; we’ve come to think of Advent as a countdown to the Big Day.
Anticipation has shifted from what Advent is supposed to be, holy longing and seeking God’s transforming grace, to become a nerve-wracking march through anxious days as we prep for the up-coming party. It might be helpful to think less in terms of checking off the days—which often ends up fueling our anxiety, since we’re running out of time for our preparations—but rather as inhabiting a peculiar season of God’s work in our lives.
Interestingly, in the church traditions about the meaning of Advent, the month prior to our celebration of Christ’s incarnation is less about preparing for Christmas and more a time of anticipating His second coming. We are given this season to ponder our need for release from captivity, our need for healing and hope, our longings for the new creation that Christ’s second coming promises.
The hymns of Advent are often slow and foreboding—“Oh come, oh come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” We imagine the horror of exile and seek the glimmers of hope offered by those prophets who dared to tell those who had hung up their harps by the rivers of Babylon that there would be a homecoming to their beloved Jerusalem.
It is often said that we dare not rush the joy of Easter and must embrace the pain of the passion. Similarly, we ought not sing Joy to the World quite yet: we should live with the realities of those “O’er all the weary world” “whose forms are bending low,” in your own sad and lowly place, and mine.
Advent, dear friends—even for those of us working in the fast-paced world of business and retail—is simply not about counting down the days ‘til a big ‘ol feast. It is a time of getting in touch with our deepest longings, clarifying the state of our hearts. Do we “hunger and thirst for righteousness”? Do we “long for a city not built by human hands”? Do we truly pray “thy will be done, on Earth … ”?
The ancients who began the custom of entering into the holy time of the church calendar suggest that Advent is actually similar to Lent. Year by year we are given this opportunity to focus our heart’s desires on the reign of God, the coming Kingdom that began in a garden and promises to end in a fully renewed city.
Enter into the Story of God
Advent ought not be seen as a religious version of the mall’s shopping days countdown. It is, rather, a season to remind ourselves to enter the Story of God. It is a time to consider time, even the end of time when Christ returns, this time when death is defeated and we will reign in eternal goodness, this time when no longer will “thorns infest the ground.”
Do you long for such shalom? Do you seek glimmers of joy, even in the work of your hands? Can you imagine the relentless ka-ching-ing of our modern-day marketplaces as somehow connected to the work of God in the world? This season of Advent will serve us well if we enter into it as a holy time of training in hope.
Embrace God’s grace that evokes your deepest hopes, your best dreams, and their connection to God’s redemptive story, Christ’s work in the world.
Perhaps, like Lent, Advent will be a time to repent. In our anticipation of the coming of Christ, John the Baptist has some harsh words. So do the prophets. Repent. Turn from idols. Learn to do justice. Believe the promises.
As we take up customs such as reading Advent devotionals, using Advent calendars, and lighting the candles of an Advent wreath, we can enjoy authentic, life-giving anticipation.
But let us be clear: we are not anticipating a fest of consumerism, nor a sentimental silent night. We are preparing our hearts for the very reign of God, the restoration of all things. What an extraordinary, cosmic vision. What audacious hope! No wonder we need an annual season to clarify our hungers, our desires, our dreams. May your seasonal rituals and traditions be vehicles of God’s grace in your life, shaping your desires for His Kingdom a-coming.
Marantha, Lord Jesus, come.
Advent in Us
“But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace” (1 Cor. 15:10).
The grace of God through Christ Jesus is not a passive presence in our lives. The grace of God is at work in us, building us up and moving us to action and growth, to good work and worship. Everything we accomplish and all we become is because of the grace of Christ. In this, the first week of Advent, let’s remember Advent in Us, the gift of grace through our Lord Jesus. Let’s consider ways to discover anew the work of grace in our work, our lives, and our relationship with God.