Brief synopsis of the readings: The prophet Jeremiah begins by speaking (in God’s name) and promises the return of the line of David. “Judah will be saved and Israel shall dwell in confidence.” In Luke’s Gospel we read that Jesus spoke of a time of great fear. But then the Son of Man will come on a cloud. When that happens his disciples are instructed to “hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.” “Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.”
I grew up in Northern Virginia, and when I was in 4th Grade we went on a field trip to Colonial Williamsburg. Field trips were always fun, not only because it got us out of the classroom for a day, but also because we got to go to places many of us had never been. I may have the times wrong but in my memory we had to report to the school at 6AM, got on buses, and didn’t get home until 9PM. In the days before our trip our excitement grew and grew and the night before it was almost more than we could bear.
The trip itself proved worthy of all the anticipation. I imagine there was supposed to be an educational component but none of that mattered to us. We had a great time and by the time we got home not long before our usual bedtime our anticipation had been well fulfilled.
I write this not out of a sense of nostalgia, but because it reminds me, just a little bit, of Advent, the season we enter with these readings. Advent comprises the 4 1/2 weeks before Christmas.
It’s certainly a busy time, and for many of us it becomes almost frenetic and a little stressful. We have parties to attend, cookies to bake, to say nothing of finding the perfect gifts for the ones we love. And unfortunately, laid on top of this is the added pressure of “Keeping Christ in Christmas” and finding quiet time to honor the coming of Jesus.
So let’s take a different path. Let’s face it: we are an impatient people who don’t like to wait. We want what we want when we want it. As I write this several retailers are competing for the crown of the fastest, cheapest shipping. If not already, soon our skies will fill with drones because our streets are too jammed.
We can blame part of this on rampant consumerism, but I think there’s also a sense that the things we wait for are things we fear: we want fast shipping because we don’t want our gifts to arrive late.
Additionally we live in a world where we rush law enforcement to our borders because the refugees we await are portrayed as dangers to our way of life.
Here in California we enter each fire season with a well reasoned sense of dread that ongoing climate change will make this year even worse than last, and the East Coast braces for increasingly strong and deadly hurricanes.
Given this, it’s easy to think that waiting is a bad thing, something we should fear. It’s easy, and even fashionable, to think that everything is headed in a bad direction.
But Advent tells us that we are headed in a good direction. While we may await challenges and even suffering, we are a people who await the promise of redemption. And while we know that the birth of our redeemer happened 2000 years ago we celebrate Advent event today.
And while we await the coming of the Redeemer, what do we do? Many in our world tell us that we should panic in the face of the danger we await. We should jettison our hopes and values and confront those people we fear and ensure that our safety at the expense of their human rights.
Others tell us that we should ignore what we see. They tell us that in the end God will take care of us and our involvement in this world does nothing except show that our faith in God’s redemption is relative. Some Christians refuse to vote in elections out of a belief that intervening in human affairs professes a belief that we can interfere in God’s plan for us.
I suggest we take a middle course. While Advent celebrates the arrival of the birth of the Redeemer, it doesn’t end our story. We know that in the end we will all be granted salvation but we also know that Jesus’ birth empowers rather than finishes our strength.
And so we await a critical event that allows us to do great things. In the next month we will celebrate the fact that God did not light a light as much as he crashed into our darkness. We will celebrate the reality that we are not passive observers in our salvation but partners in the salvation of the world.