Rushing Toward Christmas
There’s a cartoon floating around the Internet in which the Thanksgiving turkey shouts at Santa, “This is my day! Wait your turn!”
In our hyper-commercialized culture, there’s no waiting for Christmas! Wreaths were crowding out pumpkins before Halloween.
On one hand, the rush to Christmas can be a good thing. It creates a months-long opportunity for followers of Christ to share the story of the way God’s love became flesh among us in Jesus. It’s not Macy’s or Starbucks’ job to tell the gospel story! But you don’t have to a Christian to know that “Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas” doesn’t hold a candle to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” All you have to do is like good music!
On the other hand, the rush to Christmas undermines the meaning of Advent, the season of waiting when we live with vivid anticipation of something yet to come. Magrey deVega got it right when he titled his Advent bible study “Awaiting the Already.”
Waiting for the Future
In the worship tradition of the church, the First Sunday of Advent points our attention beyond the past or present into the future. It lifts our vision to catch a glimpse of that day when God’s Kingdom will come and God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. It draws us toward the fulfillment of God’s redemptive purpose in the final coming of Christ.
I remember hearing an Episcopal priest named Fleming Rutledge preach in the Duke Divinity School chapel on the day when the Episcopal Church honors John and Charles Wesley. She said she loves the First Sunday in Advent because she gets to sing Wesley’s interpretation of the promise in Revelation 1:7: “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him,even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail.” I had never heard the hymn before. Charles wrote:
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:
God appears on earth to reign.
Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.
Yea, Amen! let all adore Thee,
High on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the power and glory,
Claim the kingdom for Thine own;
O come quickly! O come quickly!
Everlasting God, come down!
The historically British tune is downright challenging, but in the right setting, it has the power to stretch the imagination to catch a glimpse of the final coming of Christ. You can hear it here.
Active Waiting Shapes Hopeful Living
Even a passing glance at the daily news will confirm that we are still waiting for the fulfillment of the Kingdom vision. That’s why the final words of the Bible are the persistent prayer, “Lord Jesus, come.” (Revelation 22:20)
But faithful waiting doesn’t mean sitting around doing nothing. It means living now in ways that are consistent with the way we believe this world will be then.
- We care for the environment now because this renewed creation is the place where God will dwell then. (Revelation 21:3)
- We resist violence and work for peace now because we know that “nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” then. (Isaiah 2:4)
- We do all we can to heal racial and ethnic divisions now because we know that diverse people from every race, tongue and nation will be gathered around the throne then. (Revelation 7:8-9)
- We demonstrate compassion for hurting, suffering people now because we know that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” then. (Revelation 21:4)
- We feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, seek economic justice and welcome refugees now because we know those are the criteria by which every nation will be judged then. (Matthew 25:31-46)
- We bear witness to the One who came among us as the Prince of Peace now because we know that “every knee will bow and every tongue that Jesus Christ is Lord then. (Philippians 2:10-11)
Waiting for the way we believe the world will be then becomes the defining reality by which we shape our lives now. It transforms our faith, our relationships, our economics and our politics. Waiting teaches us how to live as disciples of the One who is and one day will be Lord of all.
That’s worth waiting for!
Grace and peace,