At the End of Advent
I admit a certain fondness for Advent. I enjoy waiting to celebrate Christmas until Christmas Eve. I like preaching on the wonderful eschatological themes of Holy Scripture. I love Advent Lessons & Carols, not only in our parish, but the annual broadcast from King’s College Cambridge on BBC Radio 4. I even feel intense schadenfreude that it is broadcast here in America on NPR, perhaps the last whimper (and a good one at that!) of Christendom. Last, but not least, I love a sharp discount on a massive Christmas tree.
But this year, I have been reminded that one of the great joys of Advent has nothing to do with waiting, or even delayed gratification. It has to do with the truth that the Word of God has already come to us, and has already taken up residence in our souls and bodies. This, to put it succinctly, is the basis for Christian hope, the glorious mystery, as Paul puts it, “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col. 1:27) Our souls are awakened and cleansed by the indwelling Word, and though we might find ourselves sluggish or plagued by sin, the work of God in Christ is to call the sleeper to be awake, to call the sinner.
This is particularly important as we are often given cause to meditate and think upon the reality that this world and the order of it are passing away. We await a renewed creation, even a new heaven. We yearn, often with eager groans, for bodily redemption. I have noted a certain restlessness in me and those around me. The joy of this Advent has been that Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is the ground of my hope, even as I experience the frailty of my body, the fact that whatever safety I am tempted to trust in, is an illusory thing. The truth we Christians proclaim is that the invisible mystery behind all that we see and experience, is Christ, who not only made all things, but joined himself in the Incarnation to the created order, not to ignore it or demean it, but to redeem it.
I have been reminded of the urgency of proclaiming that truth to a broken, disturbed, and uneasy world. This truth is to be proclaimed to a parish family which experiences all of that brokenness, all of that fear. We have members who are dying. We have members who are afraid. We have members who are disillusioned. I feel in myself a call to proclaim the truth of the hope of the Gospel, and the joy of the Christian sacramental life with renewed vigor. We exist, as a parish church, to lead all people to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph. 4), to build up the Church and make disciples. Mature discipleship requires seeing the world, and the people around us, through the eyes of hope.
Advent does not catechize us in a way of unfulfilled hopes. It instructs us to rejoice, even, as Father Nicholas reminded us last Sunday, when life is filled with despair and pain. Our hopes, the deepest longings we have for constancy, for love, and for life to be more than what we see now, are fulfilled in the Lamb of God. That wonderful Advent hymn “On Jordan’s Bank” calls to memory John the Baptist, crying out that the Lord is nigh - meaning adjacent. The New Testament story culminates in the Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord, in the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost: all of which point us, not to a presence which is adjacent, but to one that is right where we are, inside us, dwelling in the Eucharist, dwelling in the Christian, dwelling in the Temple of the Lord’s Body, the Church. We live in expectation of the day when the reality that we cannot see, breaks in upon this world to be visible to all.
As we enter the twelve day solemnity of Christmas, I want to remind the people of Christ Church of this simple hope, the joy of life lived in the presence of Jesus, and the joy of knowing that we will one day see Him face to face.
I encourage you to truly keep this feast, even if this Advent has been difficult or distracted. I hope it is filled with fires, and meals, and desserts, and warm beverages, but more so, with the awareness of Jesus Christ in your midst.