The season of Advent is upon us. For most people it is a flurry of activity to prepare for the Christmas and New Year holidays: a time of decoration, a time of shopping, a time of baking, a time of lights and candles. For some, it is simply the most stressful time of the year. But historically, advent has been a time of inward preparation in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. It recalls the themes of a late-term pregnancy: waiting and suspense, hope and expectation. Advent literally means “arrival.”
During the season of Advent, the church celebrates Christ’s coming into the world and watches with expectant hope for his return. We are reminded that we live in a time between Arrival One and Arrival Two.
In the biblical story, especially in readings from Isaiah, Advent reflects a people waiting for a messiah—an anointed conquering king—who will save them from oppression and despair. Themes of darkness and light, of night and a new dawn, provide metaphors for a dramatic change to come. In Christian theology, Advent reflects the idea that God is coming into our midst, that a divine child is arriving who will restore creation and set things right—to make us better individuals, to heal our broken relationships, to transform our world with justice and peace. Those were the promises of Arrival One.
However, things are not better—injustice is the norm, wars persist, the poor continue to suffer, the planet is in crisis. The world is still mired in darkness and despair. Arrival One was insufficient. So we wait for Arrival Two—for Jesus to return and set things right. Ultimately, we are looking for a supernatural messiah to save us from the toxic mess we created. And so we wait. And we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
But perhaps we have it all backwards. Instead of waiting for God to act to set things right, perhaps God has been waiting for us to act. The message of Jesus is that we are the ones who are called to make a better world. If you are looking for a messiah, wait no longer; simply look into the mirror.
The readings for Arrival Two remind us that Christ will come again, and we are to prepare for the momentous day. But perhaps the return of Jesus is not found in the future. Maybe his return is found daily in those who follow him and embody his message and mission. Christian theology, beginning with the Apostle Paul, reminds us that we are the body of Christ. Jesus has returned in us and through us and among us. We are the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus. If the spirit of Jesus is to be manifested in the world today, we are the divine actors who will play the role. The truth is that Christ is always coming—through us.
The message of the Arrival Two lessons is one of preparedness. Be vigilant, we are told. You are to be the light of the world. Keep your lamps trimmed and burning. Prepare for the task ahead, and do so quickly. For soon the seasons of Advent and Christmas will be over and as Howard Thurman wrote, then “the work of Christmas begins.”
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”
God is waiting. We have much work to do. What are we waiting for?