Tuesday, December 10, 2013


So, Advent is my favorite time of the year. I grew up in a typical evangelical congregation, we light candles in the wreath each week, but Advent was basically a countdown to Christmas. There were carols in worship and it was, essentially, a sanctified version of the busyness most people engage in between Thanksgiving and December 25th. That may not be what was really happening, but it was certainly my perception.

Later on, in Seminary, as I began to explore the broader tradition of the Church, I came to understand Advent in its uniqueness. It has always been my favorite time of the year (not least because it almost always includes my birthday). I like the anticipation of it. I'm an anticipation guy. I'm usually much more excited for the build up than the event - and that doesn't just apply to Christmas, but to almost anything. I'm far more excited about the road trip than the destination.

Advent is a time of anticipation.

Part of that is recognizing the world around us. I often preach from the Old Testament passages during Advent because I like being reminded that the world is imperfect, that we're waiting for something. The problem is, often these sermons can be a bit of a let down. Too much focus on hope and fulfillment and it feels like I'm shortchanging the unsettledness, the anticipation of the season.

I think I've been missing a step. To those who've sat through those often conflicted sermons of Advents past, I apologize. I will get it better next time.

You see, I've always tried to make Advent special, to set it apart from Christmas - and that's important - but what I've failed to do is place that special, separate season within the context of the larger Christian narrative. We have a "Church Year" for a reason - because the individual seasons are a part of a larger story. I've often missed that.

Advent is about digging deep into the well of sorrow, about recognizing the pain and confusion and hurting and wrongness that exists in our world. That's absolutely true. But it is also, absolutely, about taking that depth of pain and from it painting a glorious picture of hope. We all have an idea, even if it's vague and shadowy, of what the world should be.* Advent is a time to immerse ourselves in the yawning gap between reality and possibility. We're intended to use this season to create a vision of hope, peace, and love so impossible large it overwhelms the senses.

This is a season for dreaming big - about all the things we're too scared to dream of the rest of the year. This is when we dream of families reunited, of wounds healed, diseases cured, hunger satisfied, and abuses reconciled. Advent is the season of impossible dreams, dreams we believe possible only by the thinnest, most outrageous strings of hope and faith.

We do this in preparation for Christmas. So that when we encounter a crying baby, in a cold crib, in a forgotten house, among lowly animals, we are bowled over by the juxtaposition.

We need a grandiose Advent to prepare ourselves properly for the shocking revelation of Christmas - that this giant, impossible dream of everything set right, hopes fulfilled becomes possible because of an impoverished infant, born in a lowly manger, two thousand years ago.

The contrast is jarring, especially in a world where power gets things done. To think that God's plan for bringing earth-shattering (literally) transformation is the weakest, most impossible little baby. It's such a confusing reality that we spend the rest of the year attempting to wrap our heads around this apparent paradox.

Advent is already half over this year - but fortunately it keeps coming back around. Remember, as you struggle to slow down, relax, and wait at a time when everyone is rushing to Christmas, that love really does beat power, weakness tops strength, that beauty really does save the world.

Be present this Advent and don't forget to dream big!

*My friend Justin McRoberts wrote a great piece about Advent Hope this week - check it out.

1 comment:

Dr John Stauffer said...

I found your blog while perusing various service options within the Church of The Nazarene. I have just completed reading several of you blog posts. Thank you for your honesty and openness to those who will read. What I did find was a commonality of thought concerning theological stuff. I am a seventy year old retired pastor. I would be pleased to share more if you want, but for now I just want to encourage you to keep on keeping on. I will not tell you that I am impressed with what you are doing, but that I am "blessed" with what you are doing. I will be following your future and will pray that as you attempt to draw people to your community of ministry that you will find a way to include old guys like me who long to remain active in ministry and in particular in the setting of service to those who are doing their call not just looking for a "good" paying job in ministry.
John Stauffer