Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Very Odd Way to Start the Year

Advent is here!  Advent - Latin for possibly the most important prayer for Christians to pray – “Come.”  Advent, as of today, has begun!  For the Church, the fourth Sunday before Christmas (anywhere from Nov 27 - Dec 3) is the day that represents their New Year’s Day. 

Don’t you find that odd, though?

Shouldn’t the Christian calendar begin with the actual birth of Jesus?  Shouldn’t our New Year’s celebration break forth on Christmas Day rather than some random Sunday four weeks prior? 

This seems off.

Christians have marked the very orientation of time itself with the birth of Jesus.  Every year before Christ’s coming counts down towards Him.  Every year after His birth counts up from Him.  So why in the world do we not mark the start of our year with the day of His birth?

Odd?  Absolutely. 

But I find it so very fitting.

There is a history behind all of this that is worth visiting at some point, but I just want to offer a word of affirmation of how appropriate it is that the Christian year kicks off not with a flash and a bang and a commemoration of a great event but with a season of quiet expectation, a time of desperate yearning for things that are to come.  No fireworks, no champagne, no parties.  Nope.  We begin our year with anticipation, expectation, and an aching hunger for things to come.

How perfect is it that the Christian year begins with longing, with anticipation, with waiting?

Despite the abundance of religious kitsch that disappointingly floods the shelves at local Christian bookstores, the biblical affirmation is that the world is utterly and completely unfair, unjust, broken, and dark.  For conversation partners in this pray the psalter (esp. 88), have coffee with Job, and look over Paul’s medical records.  Any quick attempt to wrap a pretty bow on life’s problems, any “it’s all going to be okay,” any pithy “God just wanted another angel in heaven” doesn’t honestly deal with the ugliness and darkness that pervades our world – nor the senselessness of most of it.

Our year begins with longing partly because our world is full of darkness.

Our year begins with longing mostly because we are a people of hope.

And we can’t be this without confidently affirming two things.  One, the world is screwed up and so are we.  If this were not true there would be no need to hope for something else.  If all is well, hope is not needed.  The other affirmation is that God is alive and He is at work.  We hope in God’s light in the midst of great darkness.

The Christian life is a daily tension between the "already" and the "not yet."  We celebreate and enjoy that God has already loved us, He has already saved us, and that we are already walking in His Kingdom.  Yet we also know that we have not yet tasted the fullness of unhindered, untarnished love.  We have not yet been fully saved from sin and death.  We have not yet experienced the coming of His final Kingdom.

To get too far into affirming the “already” is to not admit the reality of starving children, broken marriages, bodies ravaged by cancer, lives ruined by addiction.  To get too far into affirming the “not yet” is to miss the power of God’s Spirit, the foretaste of resurrection, and the beauty of God’s transformative redemption taking place among us.

That is why Advent represents one of if not THE most important celebratory affirmation and yearning prayer for Christians – come

We joyfully say:

Jesus has come into our world to forgive and reconcile and redeem!
The Kingdom has come among us and has renewed and restored us!
The Spirit has come into our lives to transform and remake us!

And yet…

And yet we cry from the depths of our souls…

Jesus, O Jesus, please come into our world.
      So much pain.  So much confusion. Please come.
Kingdom come, please come among us.
      So much violence.  So much darkness.  So much hunger and death.
Spirit of the Living God come!
     Make us whole! Set us free!  Heal our diseases!

As my favorite Christmas song cries, "Come, O Come, Immanuel and rescue captive Israel."

I really like that our year starts with longing.  We need to be reminded that our worship, our spirituality, and our faith are expressed in the yearning for a new world, a new Kingdom, and a new life. 

Along with Charles Wesley's famous words written so long ago we say, 
“Come,  thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; 
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.” 
We join the church in a prayer she's prayed for hundreds of years, “Even so, Come Lord Jesus!”

We echo The Prayer Jesus gave His people, "Your Kingdom come..."

And we shout in agreement with the prayer that closes out the Bible, "Amen.  Come Lord Jesus!"

This Advent spend less, give more, and, most importantly, worship the One who has come and yearn for the One who is to come.

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