All over the world, clergy and Christian educators will tell congregations that Advent is about waiting, if they talk about it at all. The blue and the purple will come out, and clash with the “real” colors of the season, making those who care about color palettes cringe. And candles, of various colors and with various names, will be lit.
Advent is an intrusive season. At a time in the year when everyone is being urged to be jolly, Advent is introspective. Just when we have decided to buy things that we hope will bring big smiles on December 25, we are told what really matters is the Second Coming, date unknown. Just when we have started to look at end of the year financials, Advent ushers in a new church year before we are ready.
Waiting for something wonderful to happen is not such a hard sell. Little kids know that the Big Day is coming, so we help them get ready with “visions of sugar plums”. Healthy women waiting the long nine months have time to get the nursery ready and rest up for sleepless nights ahead. Choirs practice extra hours in anticipation of nighttime services and favorite music. We can wait, because after all, at the end of it, Baby Jesus gets born.
But what if we don’t actually know how things will turn out? What if we are the little kids who wonder if there will be any Christmas gifts, or even food on the table? What if we are the prospective parents who have been told that their child has serious birth defects? What if the future for which we wait is dependent on a government far way or a twist of fate?
Matthew 24:36-4436“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
These words at the end of the gospel of Matthew are words for this time and this season. What will the country look like under a new administration? What changes will terrorism bring to the world? Who will benefit from a new regime in Washington and who will lose? How will the church respond to world in which the concept of “Advent” itself is regarded as quaint and irrelevant, even by other Christians?
We are not waiting in anticipation for a joy we know. No matter what we think of the direction in which the world is heading, it is clear that this year will bring change. Some of it will certainly be joyful, some not. But we are warned by this passage to be ready. We do not have the luxury of just “waiting it out”. Like the householder who gets word of an impending break-in, we must be vigilant.
What we do know about this Advent is Christ. We don’t know how or when Emmanuel will come. Will it look like hope or peace or joy or love? Or will the coming of Christ be as confusing as the conversation of angels with terrified teenagers and low income farmworkers? We dare not miss it, this inbreaking of the Holy into the mess of our busy lives. Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming – sometime. And then we’ll see what is “real”.
This song expressed my hope today: