When teaching about Advent, I typically used the three tenses of the mystery of faith in the Great Thanksgiving – Christ has come, Christ is risen, Christ will come again – to provide insight into the nature of this liturgical season. There is the past waiting for the coming of Christ that was fulfilled in a manger in Bethlehem. There is the anticipation of the future coming of Jesus at the Parousia. There is also the present waiting for Jesus to enter into our lives and situations.
I have found that living into both the past and future waiting was difficult. It’s hard to imagine the deep sense of anguish and yearning of the Jewish people as they longed for the promised Messiah. I understood it theoretically, but it was difficult to enter that space existentially. In the same way, it was challenging to truly understand that deep longing expressed by the apocalyptic writers of the New Testament. Like them, I too await the Parousia. However, I have never experienced the anxieties of first century Christians facing persecution.
Because of my difficulty in imaginatively entering into the deep yearning of peoples whose worlds were filled with apprehension, uncertainty and insecurity, I’m not sure I waited all that well, deeply and attentively during Advent. I observed the season of Advent and was grateful for it. However, my expectations were probably not high enough. It was easy to get lulled into a sense of security as the happy lilt of carols filled the air as I walked through light-gilded aisles filled with the commercial trappings of Christmas. Probably for most of us, most of the time, we have walked through Advent with only a minimal sense of needing the Christ child and all that he brings.
This year, is much different. We live in a world that has been turned upside down. Infections, hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 are spiking to new levels. The economy is on shaky ground. Unemployment and financial insecurity also are rising to unprecedented levels. The election still is not finalized. We still see signs of the plague of racism. As a whole, we live in a more uncertain world than we have ever experienced.
Perhaps this opens us more fully to the true gifts of the incarnation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Sermon, “Learning How to Wait,“ shared these perceptive words: “Not all can wait – certainly not those who are satisfied, contented, and feel that they live in the best of all possible worlds! Those who learn to wait are uneasy about their way of life, but yet have seen a vision of greatness in the world of the future and are patiently expecting its fulfillment. The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.”
If ever there was a year when we need faith in the midst of uncertainty, hope in the midst of despair, love in the midst of physical distance, and joy in the midst of sadness it is now. If Bonhoeffer is correct (and I believe he is), then the fact that the scales of our contentment have been removed and a sense of the imperfections of our world, we are more ready to receive the true meaning of the Incarnation. God is not aloof. Christ is not distant. The Spirit is not remote. God meets us in our need and in our need we are more watchful for the God who comes.
I pray that during this Advent season, your spirits will be open to receive the gifts Jesus brings. And as you receive this gifts, may you share them with others.
If you would like to view past editions of Moments with Mike, follow this link: https://corridordistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/