In her masterful book, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ (2018) Fleming Rutledge, Episcopalian priest and theologian, calls us to Advent not simply out of habit or out of a desire to be “high church.” [To the latter point, can we stop acting like Advent is simply a high church thing?] Instead, she invites to us to appreciate Advent as poingantly and prophetically relevant to the present witness of the church.
Advent is a waiting. It is a call to patience. It is light piercing darkness. In a word, it is apocalypse—it is a revealing of that which was once hidden. Advent is three tenses in one event for the life of the church. In history, it was a building up to the breaking in of the Christ child. For our future, it is a looking ahead to the apocalyptic unveiling of our Lord’s second coming.
And it is us in the present. Bombarded by innumerable forces demanding our attention, we take the counter-cultural posture of watching and waiting. We wait for the second advent of our Lord. The Holy Spirit knits hope into our individual and collective hearts. Patience, not effectiveness, becomes our driving force. No programming or strategy sessions will quicken or delay our Lord’s second coming.
We are helpless for the one who is our Help. We are powerless for the the one who is the source of kingdom Power. We are uncentered by the One who is the Center of the cosmos.
Advent reminds us of the two levels of lights that have animated Christianity—the upper lights of heaven and the lower lights of earth. Advent is the lighting of our lower candles by the upper ones. It is the light of John’s gospel (1:5) that the darkness could not (and cannot) vanquish.
For those who want to bypass Advent because they feel we already know “the rest of the story,” you do so at your peril. Advent is not simply a church tradition nor is it just an act accomplished 2000 years ago with a cast of shepherds, angels and wise men. Advent is a prophetic posture and witness that looks into the darkness, shines the light, and proclaims peace to all. Advent looks at a broken world and maintains belief in goodness, hope, and beauty. Advent is grounded in the character of God and invites us to find our lives likewise.
May our lower lights, as dim as they are, shine light in our world. Holy Spirit, invite us to ponder anew the inbreaking our hearts long for when faith gives way to sight and light is not needed because you are our light (Rev. 22:5).