By Bishop Linda Nicholls
As a child, the joy of Advent was knowing it meant Christmas was just around the corner. The Advent wreath was a sign that soon Christmas would be here… and an Advent calendar was a way to count down the days. The excitement was, of course, mostly about the gifts to be received, loosely connected to the birth of Jesus.
With maturity came the realization that there is much more to Advent than hoping for it to end! For Advent is the season that articulates the longing of our hearts – the waiting between the hope we have seen in Jesus Christ and the second coming of Christ when all will be fulfilled in God’s kingdom. We see what is possible in following Jesus including forgiveness, grace, and a life lived in a community of love and service that is good for all. We long for it to be true for all people, especially when every day is filled with constant and instant news of pain, suffering and brokenness. We long for the healing of the pain and violence and our hearts resonate with Isaiah’s vision for peace when “the wolf will lie down with the lamb…and the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord” (Is 11:6, 11).
We want to be ready to share in that kingdom and are called to self-examination to see where we are not yet ready. The collects of Advent guide us – “Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armour of light” (Advent I) and “inspire us to turn our disobedient hearts to you that when Christ shall come again to be our judge, we may stand with confidence before his glory” (Advent II); and “Remove those things which hinder love of you, that when he comes, he may find us waiting in awe and wonder” (Advent III).
Advent gives expression to our joy as we anticipate the incarnation – God with us in human form in Jesus – and also the possibility that a human being can say ‘yes’ to God’s call to bring God’s presence into the world. “Heavenly Father, who chose the Virgin Mary, full of grace, to be the mother of our Lord and Saviour, now fill us with your grace that we in all things may embrace your will” (Advent IV).
While we wait for Christ to come again we, too, are called to bear Christ in the world now – young, old; male, female; rich or poor.
Advent is both joyful and realistic. It calls us to wait expectantly, holding to the joy of the incarnation already given, while honestly assessing the present in order to prepare for all that God has for us in the future.
In their book, Living with Bread, Sheila, Dennis and Matthew Linn tell the story of orphaned children during WWII who were unable to sleep due the traumas and hunger they had experienced. Their caregivers discovered that giving each child a loaf of bread at night allowed them to sleep knowing they had food for tomorrow and hope for the future. Our bread is the living bread of Jesus Christ who gives us hope!
Although we enjoy the pleasure of sharing Christmas with family and friends and delight in gifts let us not rush to Christmas only. Living in the ‘not yet’ can be rich and full knowing what has been already received and more is to come!