Michael Thompson serves as Director of National Associations & Strategic Planning for the Association Development Group (ADG), a communications and management company for non-profits. After studying Physics and Astronomy at Cornell University, he joined staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as Team Leader for New York’s Capital District. Michael is an active blogger at Perichoretic Life and most recently published with Comment Magazine.
Having grown up in the Baptist tradition, it took me many years to fully appreciate the depth of the Church Calendar. For starters, the Christmas Season begins with Christmas Day and continues for 12 days (thus the song). Right now, Christians everywhere are entering the Advent Season in anticipation and preparation for Christmas.
Advent is celebrated with four candles; one additional candle being lit each Sunday before Christmas. It starts with darkness and moves toward increasing light. Doubt leads us to faith as key questions carry us forward. Quiet desperation for God invites us to come and see “God With Us”. In many ways, Advent and Christmas mark the “New Year” for the Church.
How Long, O Lord?
Many ancient Jewish people spent centuries awaiting a Messiah (or Christ)–someone who would deliver them from oppression. Some of the imagery used was mindful of Moses who led his people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Other imagery drew more from King David who finally established Israel as a nation to be feared and respected on the world stage. These were the stories they knew, and hope was rooted in the belief that history would repeat itself in a significant way with regard to the Roman Empire.
Advent begins with intense dissatisfaction in the status quo. We expect something different. While we have only recently moved past Thankgiving, expressing how satisfied we are with God’s many rich blessings, so much still remains to be set right.
Whether we identify with the Occupy Wall Street movement, scoff at the insanity of Black Friday, or simply dread facing the dysfunctional relationships in our own families during the holiday season; all of us can identify something more that needs to be addressed in our world. Maybe we hope for small gains in the New Year, but just perhaps there is a more universal solution.
Who Is This King of Glory?
We are really between two Advents. While we celebrate the first Advent of Jesus in the Christmas celebration, we are also mindful that he promised to return. History will not repeat itself as much as it will grow and move forward. Our hope is rooted in a story much bigger than we ever imagined as it keeps unfolding.
The first Advent caught everyone by surprise. This was not the Messiah everyone expected. He was a different kind of prophet who made no artificial effort to be king. He chose to live simply as the Son of the Father, and so came as a baby.
Still, he grew and spoke truth far outside our comfort zone and established the most significant Kingdom the world has ever known. Wisdom was disguised as foolishness. Power was found in humility. The invisible God was revealed to be “God With Us”.
But this was not the Messiah we thought was coming, so do we know what to expect next time?
How Then Should I Live?
As many would-be prophets have shown time and again, we certainly won’t know “the day nor the hour” of Jesus’ return. I equally doubt that the many rationalized accounts of the Second Coming by Jack Van Impe and other televangelists drawn from news stories and Biblical proof texts have any weight.
Even so, we are called to wait with expectation…for something.
While we may not have a definite idea how the “unveiling” (or “Apocalypse”) will take place. We continue to be certain that the “Kingdom of God” is growing and will soon reveal a “New Heaven and New Earth”.
We live between the Advents: expecting a baby we didn’t know was coming, and anticipating the return of the King and His Kingdom still hidden from our direct view.
What we do know is that this Kingdom keeps showing up in unlikely ways in even less likely places. A world once completely ruled by violence is now more effectively overcome by non-violent protest. A social order once dependent on hierarchies of race and gender is now shown to be fruitless when compared with new organizations with equal partnerships. Increasingly, manipulative abuse may be resisted by simply draining its power rather than by the assertion of something more forceful.
A change has already taken place. And another change is coming. These glimpses of the Kingdom are partial and provisional, but will increasing shed light on a new horizon. So with each candle we wait with anticipation.
Are you dissatisfied? What are you expecting? Are you ready to live differently? Radically so? Even if Someone else is driving the agenda?
What are you waiting for?