Thursday, November 20, 2008
Advent: Awaiting in the Future of our Past Hope
Though Advent literally means coming or arrival few of us seems to be aware of the significance of Advent - and many others are not even aware of Advent itself, particularly those churches that do not follow a liturgical calendar. Perhaps, the lack of awareness also arises because Advent precedes so closely the overly-marketed holiday of Christmas and New Year's Day. It is also possible that many in the Western Christian Tradition tend to see Advent solely as a time of preparation for the coming of a child.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the misunderstanding of Advent, one thing is clear that there is a need for us to have a re-presentation of Advent. To accomplish this, it is important to keep in perspective that Advent proclaims the coming of God into our midst - "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (Jn. 1:14a). This guarantees us that God has entered human history through the incarnation of the Son. That is, the Son became human being in the fullness of time in Jesus Christ for the salvation of the whole world. For this reason, we rejoice, proclaim, and embody this truth to all peoples.
As for Advent, however, this is first of all about the end of time or what is known as the second coming of God's Son (eschaton). In other words, the season of Advent is a season of awaiting in the future of our past hope. It is the season of anticipation for the ultimate fulfillment of wolf lying down with the lamb (Isa. 11:6a), of death being swallow up (1 Cor. 15:54b), and of every tear being wipe away (Rev. 21:4a). Hence, Advent is the awaiting of the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Advent is the celebration of the promise that Christ will bring into its fullness God's kingdom - i.e., Christ will bring to an end all that is against God's ways.
The resurrection of Jesus was the first sign of things to come. That is, the resurrection is the sign of both inauguration and hope of what is yet to come in fullness. For that reason, Advent is not countdown time until the arrival of Christmas. It is much more than that! Advent is a time of considering the future promise of God's kingdom on earth. For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this the central paradoxical reality of Advent because the fact of God's coming is both a matter of glad news but also of "frightening news for everyone who has a conscience." Thus, Advent is not merely time of expectation but also time of readiness - time of joy and fear. There is no escaping the tension that exists in the season of Advent. This tension is central because Christ has come, and at the same time not all things have attained completion.
As we celebrate the arrival of Advent, we must not forget the tension that exists as we live between the period after the resurrection and before the second coming of Christ. Yes, the first week of Advent is a week of focusing on the second coming of Christ. The second week in Advent is a week of preparing the way for the coming of Christ, which is followed by the third week of anticipation and expectation. Finally, the fourth week in Advent is a week of commemoration of Christ's birth, but each of these weeks must be practiced in the tension of living both in the now and not-yet reality of God's kingdom. Thought the first Sunday of Advent is considered by many Western Christians as the beginning of a new liturgical year, perhaps, it is instead more appropriate to consider as the beginning of the very end of things. By this, it is not to be understood merely as the end of time but also the bringing into completion the central purpose of creation. We are anticipating the complete arrival of a new world, of a new heaven, and of a new earth - the promised coming of the kingdom of God on earth.
Thus, let us be prepare for Advent, as Jesus says, "Be dressed for actions, and have your lamps lit; be like hose who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for hims as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the masters finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But know this; if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming an unexpected hour" (Lk. 12:35-40).