We are now in the midst of the season of Advent, a time of spiritual preparation. During this season I invite you to reflect upon the various themes that will be highlighted in our scripture lessons, and to consider what they mean for you in your life.
One of the things that you’ll notice is that Advent is a season of tensions. Perhaps more than any other time of year, during Advent we are reminded of what some theologians have called the “already/not yet” character of the Christian faith. We spend Advent awaiting the celebration of our Savior’s birth on December 24-25 (which we will celebrate for 12 days thereafter)–this is the “already.” We celebrate Christ’s birth because in doing so we testify to who he is, and what he has already done in going to the cross and rising to new life–this is a birth to be celebrated! To be heralded! “Go tell it on the mountains” as the old spiritual says… Jesus Christ is born. The Savior of the world–God in the flesh–came down to us and was born in a manger over two thousand years ago. On Christmas we get to relive the anticipation and joy that characterized the first responses to our Lord’s birth as Shepherds and Magi came to greet him, and during Advent we get to anticipate this most wonderful of stories with the fondness that can only come from having heard a story many times before, but finding that it only grows richer for the telling.
And yet, there’s a “not yet” element within the anticipation of Advent, one that is easy to loose–especially in our society–in the rush surrounding Christmas. And it is important that we be reminded of this “not yet” aspect of our anticipation in part because this is the older aspect of Advent. What is this “not yet” quality? You’ll notice that many of the readings of Advent don’t so often speak of Jesus’ birth as they do of what are called the “last things,” that is, they focus more on the second coming–the second “advent”–than they do on the first, or Christ’s birth. The reason for this is that Advent began its existence not as a time of preparation for the Christmas celebration, but as a distinct portion of the Church year called “St. Martin’s Lent,” named for St. Martin of Tours. This, as the name suggests, was a time of penitence and fasting which focused on the imminent return of Jesus. Eventually as the Christmas holiday gained importance, it was thought to be appropriate to push the beginning of St., Martin’s Lent back so that it could serve as a time of preparation not only for Christ’s second coming, but a season of reflection upon Christ’s birth and what it means that the savior of the world was born in such a way–or born at all, God in the flesh!
This is why Advent makes me think of the Revelation to John, where God says “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end,” (Rev. 21:6) because in Advent we are called to reflect upon the beginning, the “already,” in Christ’s birth and the “not yet” in the second coming.
Because of this all-encompassing sense of preparation that pervades Advent, I have decided to preach a series of sermons over these four Sundays, culminating with a fifth on Christmas Eve, entitled “The Truth that God Imagines.” Inspired in part by J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, this series will take us through the readings of Advent and Christmas from the perspective of God as author, and us–all of us–as characters with roles to play in the greatest story ever told. But God imagines differently than we do. While we may imagine and create something that approximates what we’ve imagined, what God imagines cannot help but be real and true…the story of salvation being the greatest example.
So join us in worship this Advent, and invite your friends and family to come as well (forward them this email perhaps…), and let’s consider the very great story we are part of.
Your servant in Christ,