Over the years, I have grown to love Advent. In the early years of my ministry, I didn’t exactly love the season. It was too busy, too demanding, too conflicted. It was hard to find a message of hope while ignoring the whole idea of the Second Coming. I had tangled up my unfortunate experiences of family Christmases with the liturgical season. The heaviness, sadness, and disappointment I felt had nothing to do with Advent with its mystery, beauty, and awe. Although I have made my peace with Advent, the texts this week bring back my early feelings of dread and confusion.
We start with Jeremiah’s optimism: “The days are surely coming…” Such hope and promise must have been a comfort to those who first heard them. I’m not sure how they go over in today’s more cynical culture. However, these words of promise are an excellent way to ignite Advent Hope. They are a reminder that human ways are not God’s ways and God is still at work in the world to bring about a new day, a day of unity and love for all God’s people.
The Psalm sounds like a plea of one who has not always trusted God’s promises. It is a good one for us. We might not be so trusting that God’s righteousness and justice will be manifest in this world. We as individuals and congregations have strayed from God’s teachings and probably need to ask God’s forgiveness for the sins of our youth, and for God to teach us God’s paths. This confession and request for forgiveness and guidance can clear a way through some of the things that might otherwise inhibit our Advent journey. We need not linger over-long in lament, but it is good to recognize that we have not always been the hope-filled people of God we are created and gathered to be.
Once we have confessed we can move on to 1 Thessalonians for the perfect prayer to inspire hope. May we all “abound in steadfast love for one another and for all.” Hearts strengthened “in holiness” also sounds good. We are intentionally moving into this Advent season to seek hope and bring it into the world. We cannot do that without God. Paul’s words also serve to remind us that this is a communal venture; we cannot travel to Bethlehem on our own. Praying for each other and the community creates a sense of hope all on its own.
So far, so good. Then we get to the Gospel lesson. This is where the conflict comes in. This apocalyptic text feels a bit out of place at the beginning of this Advent journey, at least at first glance. The earth is a mess and nations are confused for sure. But where is redemption supposed to come from? What does it mean to say that Christ is going to return? The answer might be in the next few verses.
The seasons will come as they ought; trees will blossom in the spring. When these things happen, we will know that the Realm of God is at hand. In other words, the Realm of God is always at hand. Human beings, left to our own devises, follow the ways of chaos, confusion, and, often, destruction. When we pay attention, we see the nearness of God’s Realm and the possibilities of redemption. In these moments of attending to God and holy ways, we see that it really is possible for Christ to come again. If we accept the Mystery and search out the ways in which God is moving in the world, Hope becomes possible. We are not left to our own devices but called to bring the Realm of God into the here and now. This is, indeed, Good News. News much needed in today’s tumult and confusion. May we all be agents of Hope and builders of the Kingdom.
Where are you heading this Advent? Please join the conversation so we may share the journey.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.
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