Christians around the world are now two Sundays into the season of Advent. These four weeks before Christmas are set aside to help believers reflect on the waiting done for Jesus’ incarnation as we eagerly anticipate his return.
I heard to “first Sunday of Advent” sermons last week. The first dealt focused on Isaiah’s “irreconcilable” imagery:
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks. . .
It was a sermon that tended towards social gospel and towards working towards the reality pictured by the prophet’s words.
The second sermon from last Sunday was rooted in the (particularly American) difficulty of waiting. Like the first sermon, the second spoke words that are not untrue. But they left me a little wanting when trying to make sense of the season of hope. Both lost an amazing opportunity to bring listeners into the very story we are a part of in any way beyond simple hope and waiting. If we are to look at the first coming of Jesus as a way to understand how to wait fittingly for his second coming, I can’t help but feel the missed opportunity.
I partly blame N. T. Wright for this. In his recent book, The Day the Revolution Began, Wright argues that there was a lot going on in the period of time prior to the birth of Jesus, that the knowledge that God’s presence hadn’t returned to the Temple in a significant and pronounced way meant that the exile for sin was not really over. We often treat the four hundred year period between the Old Testament’s close and the New Testament’s opening simply as a period of silence. What if there was more to it than that? What if we aren’t good and faithful Anna and Simeon, aren’t as responsive as the shepherds and the magi, are more like little Herods protecting our own kingdoms more than anything else? What if Advent is more difficult than it is delightful?
Peter Leithart recently wrote about Advent and our approach to it, how we understand what was going on in history and how to think about our own place in time. He writes:
Advent isn’t supposed to soothe us. It doesn’t teach us to be stoic in the face of the irreparable damage of the world. It doesn’t teach us to be piously hopeless. Advent celebrates the Creator’s arrival to repair the damage of sin, judging and making new. Advent comforts because it promises final restoration, justice, and peace. Advent encourages us to persevere in trials and injustice because it demonstrates that God has pledged to make all things new. Advent unveils a God so determined to fulfill his purpose that he did not spare his own Son but freely delivered him up for us all.
As I write this at breakfast on the second Sunday of Advent, I’m curious as to what I will hear today, how the story of waiting for Jesus is brought to bear in this second stanza of the season. We are called into a great story. But we are often called out of powerful and twisted narratives that God can use Advent to set right.
You can read the rest of Leithart’s Advent thoughts here.
(image from http://nwbc-tosa.org)