Photo by Cal Hsiao
Strengthen the weak hands,— Isaiah 35:3-4, 10 NRSV
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
“Please, Aslan,” said Lucy. “What do you call soon?”
“I call all times soon,” said Aslan; and instantly he was vanished away.― C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
When I was a kid, Advent was an exciting time. Mostly because it was leading up to the reason for the season: Santa Claus and presents. What? Don’t @ me. Now, as an adult, mostly I feel dread and annoyance. I hate presents. I hate shopping. I hate the cold. And apparently, I really hate joy and happiness.
These are supposedly just outer trappings of Advent, but honestly, I am grateful for the distraction of those nuisances. Because now that I’m grown and aware of the world’s brokenness, it’s increasingly difficult for me to consider Advent with anything other than frustrated rage.
How long must we wait? How long until justice rolls down like water? How long, O Lord, until we meet again?
If the answer is soon, then I might punt a crèche.
What good is soon when there is still so much injustice in our homes, our societies, and our world? When the earth groans from the ways we humans have abused it? When so many lives are deemed worthless and trampled?
What good is soon when we need now? What good is chronos when we need kairos?
Advent disrupts my life because it reminds me of Emmanuel and how we once had God Incarnate with us and we killed him instead. I remember how Jesus promised that the kingdom of God was at hand – and yet, approximately 1,986 years later, here we are, not yet – still splintered into countless fiefdoms.
I’m pissy about how so many of us Christians cling to the eventual coming of the Lord as an excuse to passively sit by and do nothing. Why should we care about justice and systemic racism if Jesus already brought forgiveness? What’s the point of caring for the creation if God is just going to bring about a New Earth and New Jerusalem? What’s the point in doing anything at all other than spout some trite tripe about “In the end, God will judge”?
So, no. Advent is not a season that I’m comfortable with let alone receive with joyful anticipation.
But nonetheless, I yearn.
Beneath my grumbling and sulking, I vaguely remember that Advent ends in a birth – and the lead up to birth (having gone through this four times with my own children) is anything but passive waiting. It is endless worrying, research, and preparation. Lots of preparation.
The preparation can be of your body like taking vitamins, drinking lots of water, and going to the doctor. The preparation can be physical like buying clothes, diapers, and carseats. The preparation can be emotional like dealing with parenthood and examining the ways our families of origin have damaged or equipped us.
None of these are passive. They are active anticipation so that when the baby arrives, we are as prepared as we can be without an actual human present.
So maybe, the return is also active when Isaiah says, “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return.” Just as with birth, you can’t return after a long absence without lots of preparation. There is the minutiae of what to bring with you, what to pack, how to close up the place you are leaving. Then there is the question of transport, food, water, and lodging while traveling. And then, what to do when you finally arrive and if what you brought will be adequate.
If the waiting is active, then all that remains is whether or not I am prepared for God’s arrival. I find my discomfort with Advent shifts from the tension of an imperfect world waiting for God’s redemption to the squirm of responsibility for making our world ready for Kingdom Come.
I’m not sure which I prefer.
Does the tension of waiting for God to make the wrongs of the world right eat at you? How do you deal with the simultaneous truths of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who allows evil to remain? Is that tension easier to deal with than the idea of us preparing for Jesus’s imminent arrival? Why or why not? This year, how do you think you can prepare for Advent in a way that prepares the way of the Lord?
Follow along with our 2019 Advent devotional series here and read our introduction post here. You can also subscribe for a weekly digest of all our posts on the right-hand sidebar.