“Of all the seasons of the church year, advent most closely mirrors the daily lives of Christians and of the church, asks the most important ethical questions, presents the most accurate picture of the human condition, and above all, orients us to the future of the God who will come again.” (Fleming Rutledge)
Walking down Hanover Avenue on a crisp November afternoon, one still sees the vestiges of Halloween: orange string lights snaking around trees, skeletons half-buried in front yards, candy wrappers camouflaged among fallen leaves. Browsing lifestyle magazines, one sees signs of fast-approaching Thanksgiving: cornucopia centerpieces arrayed with gourds and leaves, tables mounded with fall comfort food. Perusing storefronts at the shopping mall, one is immediately inundated with Christmas: door-buster deal decals, fake snow piled in drifts, energetic seasonal employees training for Black Friday’s rush. Amidst this seasonal schizophrenia, I’ve been thinking about Advent.
Chances are you’ll never see discarded Advent decorations littering the street. You won’t see Advent recipes hyped on glossy covers. You won’t hear Advent carols piped through mall loud speakers. But because my job includes preparing church services and programming during Advent, I’ve been thinking about what the season means. For that reason, I’ve been reading (alongside the other pastoral staff at City Church) a wonderful collection of writings and sermons from Episcopal preacher Fleming Rutledge.
Rutledge claims (and I think she’s right) that the Episcopal Church historically has observed Advent best. In fact, if you grew up in another church tradition or outside the church altogether, Advent may be entirely foreign to you. Advent is the four (or, in some traditions, seven) weeks before Christmas. It is a time of preparation, a time of waiting for the coming of Christ.
Rutledge has helped me see that Advent is more a time of waiting for the second coming of Christ than it is a time of remembering Jesus’s first coming. In other words, Advent is not simply about preparing for the incarnation (Jesus born as a baby in Bethlehem). It is about the climactic return of the Risen Christ as Judge of all and the firstfruit of the resurrection from the dead.
What I am coming to see is that Advent is not simply useful as a “countdown to Christmas” or a forced reflection time to counteract the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Advent bears meaning in its own right through its ability to fix our minds and our hearts on the reign of God to be revealed fully when Christ returns.
Reading Rutledge’s sermons while simultaneously to preaching through 1 Thessalonians during this fall’s More and More sermon series has helped me realize how Paul’s letter to the early church is riddled with Advent themes. Every chapter of 1 Thessalonians concludes with a reference to the coming (that is, advent) of Jesus. (You can see this inescapable theme for yourself by reading 1:10, 2:19, 3:13, 4:16-17, 5:23.)
Mindfulness of Jesus’s second coming is important not only because it provides insight into the future but because it shapes faithful living now. Advent matters because it instructs the Church in how to live in anticipation of the full revelation of God, even in the pain and shadows of His apparent absence. The Church’s life is lived “in between”; the Church lives always in Advent until Christ returns.
Even as you feast on Thanksgiving (and you should feast with friends and family!), even as you wonder at the miracle of God coming to dwell on earth through Christmas pageants (and you should!), even as you toast the season at office and neighborhood holiday parties (and you should!), think about the tension of this life lived now between Christ’s two advents.
While Halloween still hangs in the air, and while Thanksgiving pies have yet to be baked, and while Christmas shopping remains undone, we at City Church are busy preparing for Advent. We have planned a variety of content, experiences, and resources to help shape your habits and you hearts around Jesus’s coming:
Hope Against Hope: A four part sermon series based on Romans 8:18-30 featuring sermons: Groaning in Hope (December 2nd), Hope of Glory (December 9th), Waiting in Hope (December 16th), and Spirit of Hope (December 23rd).
Advent Catechism: A weekly tool for children and their parents to remember the significance of Jesus’s first coming and his promise to come again. (Download a PDF)
City Church’s Annual Christmas Pageant and Sing-Along Spectacular: On Saturday, December 8th, at 5:30 pm, join with us as our children perform The Song of the Stars telling of Jesus’s birth and as we celebrate through food and song.