The Advent season has come and gone…we waited for the arrival, it came and went. Odd, isn’t it? A season which is named for a Coming is about waiting…and by the time we actually celebrate the arrival, the season of Advent is official over.
That’s probably why for years I assumed–unthinkingly–that Advent must mean waiting. Because that’s what Advent has meant to me, a time of great anticipation for a momentous occasion.
This year, despite rehearsals and performances and greeting cards and gifts, I did manage to read a daily devotional almost every day of the season. Watch For the Light is an excellent compilation of Christmas-related readings by a wide range of classic and contemporary Christian writers. Many of them gave me much food for thought.
For example, Loretta Ross-Gotta’s essay, “To Be Virgin”, offered this observation:
“Jesus observed: ‘Without me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). Yet we act, for the most part, as though without us God can do nothing.”
William Willimon echoed that idea of arrogance in his piece entitled “The God We Hardly Knew”:
“We enjoy thinking of ourselves as basically generous, benevolent, giving people. That’s one reason why everyone, even the nominally-religious, loves Christmas…
Yet I suggest that we are better givers than getters, not because we are generous people, but because we are proud, arrogant people…
We prefer to think of ourselves as givers–powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate.”
And yet the unfathomable humility and condescension of God should call out in us emotions that are just the opposite. Willimon continues:
“Luke and Matthew go to great lengths to demonstrate that we–with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities–had little to do with God’s work in Jesus. God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination… that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins, and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it. A gift from a God we hardly even knew…
This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be.
…this stranger comes to us, blesses us with a gift, and calls us to see ourselves as we are–empty handed recipients of a gracious God who, rather than leave us to our own devices, gave us a baby.”
This is the ADVENT-ure of following Christ, the Lord who turns the-world-as-we- know-it upside down, the King who arrived in a stable, the Sinless Savior who became sin for us, the Author of Life who died in our place.
We celebrate His first arrival, whose story arc from cradle to cross is so amazing that we need to relive it every year. But meanwhile, we await His coming again, when the whole world will be shaken to its core by the Lamb who is a Lion.
As we stand at the cusp of a new year, one which we may have many reasons to dread, let us reflect on the words of Father Alfred Delp, who wrote his essay, “The Shaking Reality of Advent”, in a Nazi prison shortly before he was hanged in 1945:
“Let us live in today’s Advent, for it is the time of promise. Space is still filled with the noise of destruction and annihilation, the shouts of self-assurance and arrogance, the weeping of despair and helplessness. But just beyond the horizon the eternal realities stand silent in their age-old longing. There shines on us the first mild light of the radiant fulfillment to come...”