Preparing for Advent

We approach the strangest Advent that most of us can ever remember.

This season is already a challenge, if we’re honest. Advent is a time where we discipline ourselves to wait expectantly for the coming of the Messiah. During these weeks we’re supposed to try to capture some of the longing and hope that God’s people lived in for centuries as they waited for God to fulfill his promise.

The problem for us is, we hate to wait.

Right? We have become (or have continued to become) very impatient people. Microwaves cook our meals. We watch whole seasons of TV shows at once.  We want our technology to work right when we’re ready, even if “user error” is often the cause when it doesn’t. We set our appointments too close together, so that we leave one early to be only slightly late to the next.

This COVID crisis, for all of its awfulness, has forced us to slow down. Cooking and baking from scratch is on the rise (no pun intended) all over the country. Students are taking classes from home. For most of our meetings we don’t drive anywhere—we just switch on our computers or tablets. Among the many things we’ve learned during 2020, we’ve learned that it’s OK to slow down—that the world won’t crumble around us if we take our foot, ever so slightly, off the gas.

Waiting for the virus to go away.

Waiting for a vaccine to be available.

Waiting to be able to worship together.

Waiting to see our families again.

Waiting to go back to our favorite restaurants.

Waiting for the all-clear.

This past year has taught us a lot about waiting. It’s preparing us for Advent.

And so what are we waiting for in Advent? New Testament scholar Daniel Kirk helps out, in his book, Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?

“We will anticipate that not only our hearts but also our bodies, our communities, our justice systems, and our use of the earth will all become increasingly conformed to the pictures of self-giving, restorative love by which God has made himself known to the world in Christ.”

That’s quite a list. Dr. Kirk is nudging us to see beyond just our own lives—to see past our own relationships with God and even our own salvation—Kirk is reminding us that the coming of Christ is meant to remake and renew everything.

Everything.

This was written in 2012, but look how closely it addresses the needs we have this year. Maybe in every year. Yes we want Jesus to transform our hearts, but that’s just the start.

In the midst of this pandemic we need Christ to protect and transform our bodies.

As we ride the rollercoaster of this presidential transition, we want Christ to heal our communities.

With our awareness of racism in our nation broadened, we cry out for Christ to show us a better, fairer way to manage our justice systems.

And as we fight through the politics to understand the unmistakable ways we do damage to the earth, we need Christ to teach us healthier and more sustainable ways to enjoy its provision.

What we’re waiting for is a restoration of shalom, what one writer called “the webbing together of God, humans and creation, in justice, fulfillment and delight”.

What we’re waiting for is exactly what God has been calling his people to long for since the earliest days of the biblical record: for God to make things right again.

Friends, it’s been such a hard year in so many ways, some familiar and some completely new to us. If we can learn one tiny lesson from this year as we move through Advent it’s this: we’re learning all over again how to wait for something that isn’t in our control. That may sound like a bad thing, but it’s exactly what Advent is meant to be about.

The joy of Christmas is coming. We can see if far off on the horizon. But for now we wait.

Welcome to the Advent season.

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