When I was a child, Thanksgiving was a very important day at my grandparent’s house. Not only was it a chance to run around and play with my cousins, watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and eat the big turkey leg, it was also the day the catalogues were put on the table. Once everyone had finished their meals and were comfortably resting on the sofa and recliner chairs, my grandmother would give each of us a piece of paper, a pencil, and then set the catalogues out for our perusal. The instructions were simple…write your letter to Santa.
As adults, the letter may have turned more into a shopping list, but the scene hasn’t changed much. As soon as the leftovers are put away, out comes the shopping list and all the advertisements. Buy this! Buy that! You are incomplete without this new gadget. Hurry! Time is of the essence. The stores will be open as soon as dinner is over!
How did this happen?
We’ve been groomed by marketing agencies to anticipate these “Big Events”. We have a deep yearning and desire to be connected, to be transformed and to be made better, and somehow that hole has become filled with commercials, sales ads and catalogues.
But for Isaiah, the psalmist, Paul, and the gospel writers, the “Big Event” was the coming of the Messiah and a new way of being in the world.
The word “advent” means the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. We are now in the season of Advent. We are anticipating the arrival of the Messiah, the arrival of the Kingdom of God, the arrival of the big event.
The reading from prophet Isaiah (2:1-5) invites us to see a new possibility. Swords will be beaten into plowshares and spears will be turned into pruning hooks. There will be no more war. Instead, we will walk in the light of the Lord. Here, the advent that Isaiah envisions is a new reality of God’s kingdom. As Noel Erskine explains:
[For Isaiah and for us] the good news is that tomorrow will be different from yesterday, because the future is based on promises of God, which are always new…[they are a] basis and ground of hope.
Can you imagine such an advent…a time when things will be different…a time that is full of hope?
The reading from the Book of Psalms (122) also invites us into a new possibility. While the psalmist is writing about making pilgrimage, he also gives the blessing of “peace be within you”.
Peace be within you.
When was the last time you felt true peace within yourself? When was the last time you didn’t feel anxious? When was the last time that you were at peace while change was happening? This is part of what the season of Advent is about. Finding peace while at the same time anticipating the “Big Event” of the coming of Emmanuel.
As we move from our Old Testament lessons and into our New Testament lessons, there is definitely a sense of urgency. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says “now is the moment…salvation is near”. In my mind I imagine Paul writing with great excitement and joy. He’s anticipating the “Big Event” and standing on a precipice of change. I imagine that he is filled with both passion and longing, but not necessarily anxious…peace is within him about the second coming of Jesus.
And it is this second coming, this new Advent, that Jesus tells his followers about. Throughout the lessons for today, we have seen time progress…the anticipation of the long awaited Messiah, the desire for peace and change, a hope for a new tomorrow in God’s kingdom, and then the anticipation of the seconding coming of Christ. It is of this that Jesus speaks about when he tells those gathered around him to “be ready” and “keep awake”. That sense of renewed hope, that promise that tomorrow will be different, the longing for justice and an end to war, the “Big Event” and the longing for deep peace within…that is what the new Advent is about.
As much urgency as there is in the season of Advent—and we’ve already heard that “now is the moment” and soon we’ll be told to “prepare the way”—I hope you’ll remember what the “Big Event” really is. Yes, it’s Christmas, but not necessarily the Christmas that the commercials, newspaper ads, and catalogues want us to believe in. Instead, we are keeping awake and standing at the ready for the coming of the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us…the promise of a new tomorrow.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.