Saturday, December 1, 2018


I don't know how you feel these days about the state of our world, our country and our families, but when I think about these and so many other topics I feel a deep need for Advent.

The name "advent" comes from the Latin word "adventus" which means "coming, arrival." Starting four Sundays before Christmas, it's a period of preparation for the coming of Christ. I've been pondering the theological meanings of the season, hoping to make advent this year as meaningful as possible in the face of all the worries that confront us. Here are some of my ideas so far.

The Crucible
The crucible: One of God's best tools

Advent reminds us of the thousands of years during which the just were waiting for the coming of a Savior. This expectant longing was especially evident in the Jews, whose prophets kept telling them that one day the messiah would come to deliver them. (No wonder the prophet Isaiah is given center stage in the liturgical readings during this season.) The prophets' message of hope was a very hard sell during periods of exile or foreign oppression, but it was precisely in the crucible of suffering and darkness that Judaism was formed into the People of God that the Lord had in mind. So here's a good reminder for me: No matter how grim or depressing things seem, the Lord's plan is working itself out in history, in the wide sweep of world events and in my own life. The period of advent-waiting is a good reminder that humanity's weakness and sinfulness cannot overcome God's loving plan for us -- and that in fact the Lord makes use of our weakness and sinfulness to achieve his final victory.

The Tension 

At the heart of advent is a contradiction: Christ has already been born years ago, yet we are anxiously awaiting his birth. A classical image the church uses to express this contradiction is that we are living in an in-between time, in the tension between the "already" of Jesus' birth in Bethlehem and the "not yet" of his final coming when he will return to set things right once and for all. Tension is a central element of the natural world: Think of the tension produced by the blood in your arteries pushing outward against the pressure of the surrounding atmosphere. If that tension is not there, and your have a peaceful BP reading of 0 over 0, you obviously are not alive. To use a rather playful image, I remember the advertisements in the back of comic books touting the body-building exercises of Charles Atlas, based on the secret of "dynamic tension:" The secret was that growth comes when you make the right use of tension. Advent is like that, I think -- a time for experiencing the tension between the fact of Christ's birth in Bethlehem and the not-yet of today's sin-sick world. The secret is to use this tension to strengthen our faith and hope.

Our Lady of Sorrows - Titian

Mary: The Advent Attitude

This is why the church has always made Mary a central figure during advent, seeing her as the first person to keep advent. Despite any confusion or wondering, despite not knowing clearly what was happening to her, Mary held steadfastly to her confident belief that God would take care of her, that "the Lord's words to her would be fulfilled." We sometimes honor her as "our Lady of Sorrows" who in the midst of all her trials never lost hope in God's promise. She'll be a good companion for me over the next four weeks.

Let's pray for one another and for our world that so badly needs Advent's message of Hope.

Amen! Come Lord Jesus!

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