There’s something about Advent that feels paradoxical to me: it’s a time of beginning as the Christian year restarts, and yet it immediately pauses as we’re called to wait not only for the festivities of Christmas but also the final fulfilment of God’s Kingdom. The impatient, non-liturgical part of me thinks everything should start on December, but no, there’s a four week countdown instead.
But then why shouldn’t there be a pause, a time of preparation? After all, the stable is the entrance to the roller coaster: look at the baby, sure, but once we do that we’re pushed onto the road to Easter and all the highs and lows and excitement and screaming along the way. Advent gives us time to prepare; Advent gives us space to hope. It’s a season to remember the first and second comings of Christ, but one of those happened a long time ago, the other at an indeterminate point in the future. Maybe the holy pause of Advent gives us space to reflect on what it means to live between those two points.
Because the liturgical needs to be practical. Jesus in the manger and Christ on the throne can’t be abstract concepts. We need to figure out how they relate to the mess of day-to-day life. If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to focus on just getting through the day without yet another microcrisis erupting and bigger questions get sidelined. But that’s a false dichotomy, isn’t it? If Jesus is with us and Jesus is king, then day-to-day life is lived out within a sacred Kingdom, a Kingdom focused on healing and restoration and resurrection and hope. It’s not a time to be lulled to sleep.
So what does it mean to be the Church in the face of food banks and Ferguson, institutional sexual abuse, fear of immigration, homelessness, war, poverty and plague…? Big questions, no easy answers, but nevertheless, we need to wrestle with the uncertainties. We also need to wrestle with our complicity.
Because Advent should be a time of justice, hope and expectation of a greater Kingdom, but also a time of repentance. To repent literally means to turn around, and sometimes that takes time, an ocean liner of our baggage slowly turning to avoid a catastrophic iceberg. The Church has not always been innocent, has very often failed to be holy, and that history may make it difficult for us to know what we’re supposed to look like.
But the answer to that is deceptively simple: we’re supposed to look like Jesus. After all. Advent doesn’t so much point to moments in time but to a Person, and if we’re supposed to reflect that Person to the world, maybe we need to pray that this Advent is transformative. I know I need that.
So does the world.