Advent anticipates the arrival of something new, novel and likely to change lives. We’ve had lots of advents in recent times: the advent of the automobile, airplane, radio, television, computers, microwaves, mobile phones and the like. Each has had a profound effect on the way we live. Each has changed the way the world works at the edges and in the center. Change like that is always with us, but it seems to be accelerating, and we can’t always tell which changes will have profound effects, and which will be of passing interest. Change comes on us so quickly these days that we have a hard time imagining what the next important advent will be.
In one sense, advents in secular life are far different from the Christian Season of Advent we are now in. They are new, unexpected, and change secular life. Christian Advent prepares us for the annual remembrance of Christ’s nativity two thousand years ago, hardly something new or novel by today’s standards. Christian Advent also looks forward to an unknown time when creation will be renewed in its totality, an advent so foreign to the secular world in which we live that it hardly seems worthy of much consideration.
On the other hand, the novelty of Christ’s nativity remains so mysteriously new and novel that we have a hard time wrapping our heads around it. Our annual remembrance remains strangely new. The Nativity ushered in such profound changes in the way we live and what we expect out of life that Christians have yet to fully apprehend them. It is the hinge on which the world’s history pivots. The season of Advent prepares us to experience Jesus Christ anew each year as if for the first time.
And what of the far distant Advent of a new creation in which the mess we’ve made of things will be cleaned up for all times? For Christians it’s a present Advent that is already here where the Kingdom of God is made present by love, but not yet fully realized reality: The already but not yet. It’s a holy mystery, and for those willing to live into it, it’s life changing for them, and for all with whom they live and work. It is the light that darkness cannot overcome, even if it’s only a little light in a few places.
The Season of Advent comes at an inconvenient time, but then the Word of God always comes at an inconvenient time. In this case, the church created its own inconvenience by plopping Advent and Christmas down on top of a preexisting Roman holiday of joyful partying and gift giving along with feasting and drinking to excess. I guess the idea was to tame the pagan celebrations, but it didn’t work. The Roman Empire may have died long ago, but the Roman midwinter Saturnalia is still with us much as it was, with the addition of rampant consumerism.
Despite righteous tut-tutting about putting Christ back into Christmas, the two holidays are likely to coexist for more centuries yet. And let’s face it, we Christians enjoy celebrating with friends and family as much as anyone. We like the festive decorations and cheery songs that offer momentary relief from the troubles of daily life. It will all be gone by New Year’s day. The reality of January blahs and credit card statements will put a damper on it. As the author of Ecclesiastes said, it’s all vanity, a chasing after the wind, there’s no substance to it.
In the meanwhile Christian Advent will have turned into Christmas joyfully celebrated all the way to January 6th, only to be followed by another season rejoicing in the light of Christ that enlightens the whole world and all of cosmic creation. Christians will remember that what began two thousand years ago is still in process, still changing lives. It has substance that endures no matter the condition it encounters. It never ceases to be new, novel.
So let us give thanks for the many advents that have enriched the way we live. Let’s enjoy a few weeks of good fellowship, and take delight in decorations, songs and feasts. But let us more fully bend to meet Christ again as if for the first time knowing that the blessings of this Advent, still unfolding, are real, life changing, and will endure through the end of time into all eternity.