The Heart of Advent
In Advent we focus on three “comings” of Christ: his arrival in history as a baby born of Mary, his return in fearsome glory at the end of time and his intermediate entrance into our own lives. During Advent we are engaged by the prophets of Israel – Isaiah, Zephaniah, Micah, Malachi – and their messianic visions. We are confronted by John the Baptist’s stern call to prepare for Jesus by repenting. We are beckoned to walk with Mary and Joseph in their anxiety and expectation. We are sobered by the teachings of Jesus and his apostles on the judgment to come at the end of the age.
But to seriously attend to things both eschatological and historical in a few short weeks (Advent lasts twenty-two to twenty-eight days, depending on the year) is not easy, especially when these weeks are for many of us the busiest and most demanding of the year. How can we experience Christ coming anew into our already full lives? How can we be absorbed in hope when we are so harried? How can our lives be enlarged in so brief a time?
Clearly it takes some work, some wrestling against the culture and our own proclivities. But making it happen isn’t all on us. A grace is also at work in this season. Think again of a pregnant woman. Yes, she must pay attention to her body and take care of herself, but the life within her mysteriously takes shape and steadily grows of its own accord. As Luci Shaw encourages:
“During the waiting times God is vibrantly at work within us. And if through the Spirit of God we have been united with the Father in dynamic relationship, if God has sown his gospel seed in us, then Jesus is being formed within us, little by little, day by day. But we have to wait if the Word is to become flesh in us. And that kind of waiting feels like work.”
The paradoxical work of waiting. The prophets and psalmists can help us. Old Elizabeth and Zechariah can help us. Their son John can help us. Young, expectant Mary can help us. We can enter their stories, listen to their words and pray their prayers over these weeks. By so doing, we deepen our longing and heighten our hope for God’s coming. By so doing, we become more attuned to the joyous wonder of Christ’s incarnation and better prepared for the fierce glory of his return. By so doing, year after year, we will be changed as Word becomes flesh in us.