Today marks the start of Advent. The word “Advent” means “coming.” As St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th century French-Benedictine monk, once said, Advent is the season where we wait for the three comings of Christ. We wait for the incarnation of Christ as a babe, we wait for Christ’s second coming in his final judgment, and we wait for Christ to come again into our lives.
Each year, while we know that Christ will come again as a babe, and we live in a world where we believe the incarnation of Christ has occurred, we nevertheless wait in the hope that he will come again. By waiting, we allow the season of Advent to form us by not jumping ahead. It’s a bit like eating dinner, knowing that dessert is on its way. While we’d love to skip ahead and have that apple pie, waiting for it provides the opportunity to practice hope-filled waiting.
As an in-between-time season, a season when we are almost-but-not-yet-at Christmas, we are invited to work our spiritual muscles of waiting in hope not only for the incarnation, but for Christ’s second coming, when He will judge the living and the dead.
Staying put in this place of waiting in hope can be challenging. I know that I used this last year in a sermon, but given our focus on C.S. Lewis this year, it’s worth mentioning again. Waiting in hope during Advent is like stepping into the wardrobe from the Chronicles of Narnia. Advent as a season is when we step into the wardrobe and place one hand on the door that leads to the harsh realities of our present day and the other on the door that leads towards Narnia – towards what could be. As we place our hands on each door, we stay put, and wait in hope in the dark.
To fully enter this season of waiting in hope, we may need to slow down. In a season that typically speeds up, we may need to find ways to slow down in order to reflect on: What will it mean for Christ to come again? What hope are you holding out for this Advent?
As we reflect on what Christ’s coming might mean in our lives and in our world, we inevitably come into contact with those tender and broken places that need his healing touch. We see again just how sorely Christ’s presence is needed in our world. And this is precisely why the season of waiting in hope begins in the dark.
Advent is a season that begins in the dark. It is a time when we get honest about the darkness in our lives and in the world in which we live. As we get in touch with this darkness, as we get honest about it, we see just how much we are still need of a Savior whom we await.
We don’t have to think hard about the darkness. We need only skim the news headlines or the broken places of our own story. The darkness that I am talking about is the sin and violence that plagues our world. The darkness is a world where people do not have access to clean drinking water or enough food. The darkness is a world where people risk their lives to flee from violence and children become civilian casualties of war. The darkness is the toddler who is tear-gassed. The darkness is humanity’s overreliance on fossil fuel that will result in the destruction of their grandchildren’s home. In our personal lives, the darkness is the minor key of a blue Christmas service: the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, the loss of life as we once knew it.
The reading from the book of Jeremiah speaks about darkness. Israel, who is living in Babylonian captivity, has lost everything. Life as she knew it is over. Israel’s homeland now occupied, temple destroyed, and on the brink of being deported, Israel cries out to God to deliver her.
In this case, Israel’s demise, the Babylonian exile, was the consequence of their sin of infidelity to God and exploiting the poor. According to Jeremiah’s account, after Israel’s time of repentance and living in the ruins of her life, Jeremiah offers a word of comfort. He says, “The days are surely coming says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise that I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” That despite their unfaithfulness to God, God will remain faithful to the promises that He made to Israel.
And this is the great promise of Advent: that despite our unfaithfulness or faithfulness, despite the darkness that we and our world find ourselves in, God will remain fulfill to God’s promises to God’s people and will rescue them once more.
The hope that we hold out for in Advent is that the light will come into the darkness and will not be overcome by the darkness. That darkness is not dark to the Lord, but as bright as the day.
Amid hardship, we the most faithful of Christians need to be reminded of the hope in which we wait, in this life and in the life to come.
Like the start of the secular new year, the church’s new year, which is Advent, so happy new year, helps us to press the reset button in our lives. As a church we reset our hope in God and in the promises of God. Come what may, wearied by the changes and chances of this life, we are invited to be a people of hope. Hope not as in a Pollyanna-optimistic state but hope as in the theological virtue where we trust in God’s promises despite our current realities.
A hope that the Hebrew prophets held during times of destruction and defeat. A hope that allowed these prophets to see beyond their seeing. A hope that empowered Jeremiah declare to a crushed people, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’” declares the Lord, “’plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Hope that Charles Wesley first offered to the poor and downtrodden of England. Charles and John Wesley ministered to the poor of England, when the Anglican tradition overlooked them. Charles Wesley, author of some of our most famous Advent and Christmas hymns, gave the poor of England the hope of Advent and Christmas. In his hymns, Charles offered the poor and the poor of spirit the hope for a better world now and in the age to come, all made possible through the three comings of Christ.
This Advent, may we reset our hope in the God who kept God’s promises to Israel by sending her a Savior, as we wait in hope for Christ’s second coming, when all things will be made new.As we wait in this time between Advent and Christmas, between the incarnation and Christ’s second coming, may we wait in the hope that change and transformation are made possible, because of the savior whom we await. And may we see beyond our seeing, as the Hebrew prophets of old, knowing that just because we see things as they are does not mean that is how they have to be.
For God has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
As we stand in steadfast hope, resting in God’s promises anew, may Christ come again into our own lives as we are made new. Amen.