Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent, Anticipation and Eschatology

Advent is an anticipatory season. I remember when I grew up in central Pennsylvania us little tykes would ceremoniously hang greens on the pews shortly after Thanksgiving, sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel", and hear the pastor read from the book of Isaiah. My family would gather around a homemade advent wreath of freshly clipped pine boughs and sing Christmas carols, each of our favorites. We opened the little doors on our advent calendars, one every day.

But as my theological knowledge has deepened, especially since attending a Lutheran church, I've learned that advent is also an eschatological season. That means we are anticipating the end of days--the apocalypse. Following the Common Lectionary, we read passages from Matthew 25 and 26 and similar passages from other gospels where Jesus exhorts his disciples to stay awake and watchful. After all, the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

Well, that's weird to talk about during Christmas season.

However, I've realized that in anticipating the Christ Child, we also anticipate Incarnation in general. We are anticipating the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Thus, when we celebrate the birth of Christ, we celebrate the birth of Christ within each of us. We remember our baptism, our confirmation, and other important events in our spiritual lives. We also remember the coming of Christ in in the communal sense, remembering Pentecost and other such holy days.

It is the eternal already-but-not-yet of Christ. And this got me thinking.

Recently I was talking with another young community organizer, and as often happens, we strayed away from the campaign and started talking about spirituality and life in general. Eventually she asked, "what would you do if the world actually was without injustice?" I laughed because I thought she was being ironic, but she was quite serious. My friend added that she thought it was very important for people involved in activism to imagine what the world would be like without the causes that we devote our lives to eliminate--and how we would fit into that world.


And that is really what we do during advent. Not only do we anticipate the Christ Child but we also anticipate the end of injustice and heartache. Walter Brueggemann would call this anticipation the prophetic consciousness. We dance and sing and play every kind of musical instrument. We paint pictures and make sculptures. We tell stories on stages and around campfires and at the dinner table. We run up and down hills and climb tall trees and swim in rivers, lakes, and oceans. We do all of these things because we are free to live and love in the beautiful creation that we are still creating with our God who is both transcendent in heaven and immanent on earth.

I have to admit that I struggled with my friend's question, but eventually I answered that I would still become a pastor because I still find my greatest joy in helping others to experience God. That is one of the beauties of the Church; while it stands opposed to the worship of mammon and other despicable gods, it actively creates the world that it anticipates. Or at least it can do that, but it is up to us to make sure of it.

So dear friends, as we hang the greens, string the lights, and sing carols, let us also anticipate the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Happy Advent.

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