I’m always hesitant to write about Advent because so many others have, are now, and will write about it with deeper understanding and far more wit. However, hesitation aside, here goes.
It’s a goofy season. My evangelical friends don’t acknowledge it, and my mainline Protestant friends give it a quick sweep as they green their churches. So here we are, Episcopalians, some Lutherans and most Catholics, maintaining a season held in high disregard by most, including a fair number in our own congregations. It’s such an odd in between time of endings and beginnings. Jesus’ kingship has been acknowledged as the king of glory and king of kings who led a small ragtag group of followers, and never rode in style on anything better than a borrowed donkey. Now we wait for the remembrance of his birth as the baby of an unwed mother born into the lap of poverty. How strange is that?
Amidst it all, we are reminded that the people of Jesus’ day had good reason to expect a different kind of messiah. The prophets, for the most part, were clear. The messiah would be a proper king backed by the awesome power of God to vanquish all of their enemies, wreak appropriate levels of revenge, and rule a renewed empire, if not the whole world. The messiah they got triumphed over all the powers of the universe, stood the common understanding of natural law on its head, defeated death, and illuminated the path of forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and wholeness. But he wasn’t a proper king, and didn’t do what he was supposed to do.
It isn’t much different today. Many Christians are consumed by expectations of the second coming that bear all the marks of a proper kingship shared by the people of Jesus’ day. Moreover, they have enough scriptural text before them to endorse it. When Jesus comes again he’ll get it right this time. Wholesale slaughter of enemies, eternal punishment of most of humanity in a flaming hell, and the eternal establishment of the kingdom of God for the elect.
We were wrong the first time. Why would we be right now? Didn’t God make it clear enough that God does not work in the way we expect? The prophets, both old and new, were not entirely wrong. The triumph of God, the banishment of evil and the healing of all creation is what they were inspired to understand, but they wrote it down, and write it still, in the language of human greed and desire for self righteous vengeance.
Advent, it seems to me, is a time to think about that. Then maybe we can approach the manger on bended knee in genuine humility and without the veneer of saccharine sentimentality that so often shrouds this holy moment.