Would that the whole world were thinking about Advent, but I shall settle for FF’s promise to occasionally blog a bit about the season of anticipation. While the liturgical legalist in me would want to have bracketed off all discussion of Christmas whatsoever until tomorrow, the beginning of Advent, the fact is that I spent all last Sunday afternoon buying Christmas gifts for my nieces, nephews and godchildren, so I haven’t a leg to stand on. I won’t even be able to build a leg out of all the Lego I purchased because it is allegedly customary to let the children open the toys themselves on Christmas Day.
Regardless of how often I stamp my feet and shout, “That’s just a mere social construct!”, Wife-unit won’t budge. I have to leave those lovely packages unopened.
Anyway. Advent. It seems to be the cool thing to record our experiences of it on our blogs these days, which is good because otherwise, what would blogs be for except distracting people too antisocial to be on social networks?
Advent, in its stripped down anticipation seems to me to be more pliable to our individual interpretations than Lent. In Lent we get caught up in the restoration-covenant plan that is the heart of all creation. Advent is much less robust than Lent; in terms of its heritage in the church, its theological significance and in how much it asks of us.
As a result, for some, Advent is a chance to engage in a bit of a lifestyle detox, that is parallel if not totally disconnected from the Biblical narrative. We see this in the Advent reflections that rotate around crafting with children or attempting to abstain from the consumption-fest that is the Western Winterval season. We should not malign this form of Advent-ing for even a moment. Indeed, my own church seeks to take up this kind of intuition and direct it towards mission by participating in the wonderful Advent Conspiracy. My friend Dave Freeburn, a poet and artist with a soul that seems to resonate with the tension induced by these waiting periods in the church calendar, proposed during the week that we consciously avoid the SPEND!SPEND!SPEND!-athon of December through something he calls Ad-Lent.
But of course historically, Advent has been a waiting that has a particular goal. Christians obviously aren’t involved in some desperate mime-performance where we wait as people in great darkness for a great light that has already dawned. Rather, we have waited through Advent in, to use a big theological word, eschatological expectation. We wait not for the birth of Jesus, an event that has happened and is never to happen again. Instead, we wait for the return of Jesus. Advent is from the Latin Adventus, meaning arrival. It was an Imperial term that was used for the coming of the Emperor to a city on an official visit. It is the direct Latin translation of another crucial big Greek theological word: parousia.
We wait, then, in the in-between time. We wait after the coming of Jesus but we wait expecting the coming of Jesus. It is upon this stage that Advent unfurls itself. And it is in this tension that we find our hopes and anxieties echoed in the characters of the infancy narratives of the Gospel. As we struggle with the injustice of the world we live in, ordered by the Empire of Capital, we find our sister in Mary as she struggled, in her Magnificat prayer, with the injustice of the world she lived in which was ordered by the Empire of Caesar. As we live under the shadow of death and the profound grief we endure, we find our brother in old Simeon.
My friend Stacey Gleddiesmith who is a gifted theologian of worship and liturgy, has written about why Advent matters. Her words speak to me today:
The fast before the feast, yes – but also something else. Advent gives us the opportunity to tell God that things are still not right down here. We weep over the state of the world; we bring to God those things in our own lives that aren’t right. Advent establishes in the people of God a renewed sense of longing for Christ’s second coming – for the day when all things shall be renewed under the lordship of Christ. As we wait with Israel, we feel some of Israel’s pain and desperation – and we join our own pain and desperation to it. We see oppression, war, and hunger in the world and we acknowledge that this is not the way things should be, that this is not God’s intention for the world. We stand in the face of injustice, sorrow, and sickness and say: “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”
Your Correspondent, Thinks every Christian should know the meaning of Ambivalence