Happy New Year! That doesn’t sound quite right, does it? We’re still digesting our third round of leftover turkey sandwiches, maybe putting up Christmas lights. It’s not New Year’s resolutions time yet.
But the Church marches to a different beat. Its year begins today with the First Sunday of Advent. Situating ourselves in the Church year can be a gift for those of us otherwise feeling stressed already with the hustle and bustle of our culture’s harried run-up to Christmas. Advent is a disconcerting season, and a hopeful one.
The Church year ended rather dramatically. All Saints’ Day kicked off a November full of apocalyptic warnings from the prophets and tricky parables concerning the end times from Jesus. Then last Sunday the Gospel left Jesus on the cross with the promise: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” The end.
But time in the Church is circular. The beginning, today, takes up where last week left off. Isaiah treats us to a future vision, a fantastical dream, an always-compelling image of swords beaten -- clank, clank, clank -- into plowshares. What’s different about this prophecy, however, from those in November is the gracious imagination of it. The judgment of our apocalyptic November dissolves into an unbelievable dream of what could be, some day, here, here, in this place and time. What will be, will be in this place and time. We long for God’s dream for the world to unfold.
The dilemma into which Advent invites us is this: If some day nations will study war no more, if some day all kids will have enough to eat and safe places to play, if some day all will finally be well, then what time are we in today? What is this world we live in today? We need a Savior. Jesus lived and died and rose again and ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to build His Church it seems like all that’s left is for him to . . . to well, come again. Come again. That’s when all will be made well, when the night of this confusing, contradicting, crushing world is lit up in the glorious brightness of justice and peace.
So the Church year begins with a delicious vision of the fulfillment of time. And painfully reminds us that we are not there yet. Advent’s disconcerting hope.
If Advent is a season after the end of the Church year, it is also the season the brings us back to the beginning. Creation. When “darkness covered the face of the deep.” When God’s longing for the world birthed all that we know. And it was good. It was really good. In fact, it was so good that God created humans so that we might delight in this vast feast of beauty and abundance. God thought we’d love living. God still thinks that.
There must be something already a part of who we are, already a part of what this world is, that is good. Really good. It is God’s image, God’s breath of life, God’s very Spirit dwelling in each of us. We long for this goodness to make itself known.
Maybe there really is a chance that that marvelous vision of plowshares really can happen. Really will happen. There is already reason to hope. We, together, can be peacemakers and justice bearers!
If you haven’t read Tattoos on the Heart by The Rev. Gregory Boyle, pick it up today. It tells the story of Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit in LA that finds jobs for gang members. Kids just out of jail from rival gangs find themselves baking bread together, making tortilla chips, silkscreening shirts, painting over graffiti. “Nothing stops a bullet like a job” goes their motto. Instead of revenge killings and drug selling, young people are choosing tattoo removals and a weekly paychecks. They’re choosing life instead of death. They’re kneading guns into bread. This is the dream we long for.
We, together, can be peacemakers and justice bearers! But have we been? Have we been peacemakers and justice bearers?
Advent is a disconcerting season, and a hopeful one. It invites us to realize and embrace our profound goodness that we already possess, and face the simple fact that we still need a Savior. A mighty end time King of kings. A just-born, manger-laid baby. Come, Lord Jesus.
Join me in taking time this Advent in prayer to accept the challenge of its dilemma. Seek silence and darkness and candlelight that we might claim our goodness and await our Savior.