Advent 1 – Come Thou Long Expected Jesus
Today starts the season of Advent – a time of expectation, anticipation and hope. As I reflect on the season this year, I keep returning to the question of what it means to live into the expectation of the incarnation. So much of the rhetoric I hear about what this time of expectation means though is limited to the trappings of the rituals of the season. Instead of embodying anticipatory waiting, what I hear most often are complaints that others aren’t waiting properly. From rants about churches singing Christmas Carols instead of Advent hymns or about those that deck their halls with pagan reds and greens instead of the proper liturgical hues, to the yearly condemnation of consumerism, Santa, and people who say “holiday” instead of “Christmas,” Advent isn’t so much about embracing an alternative reality as it is about delineating superficial difference.
We somehow seem to have forgotten the earth-shattering reality of that which we await. Advent is more than just a coming; it is the breaking in of the divine into the everyday patterns of this world. It is the hope of the future incarnate in the present making all things new. To live expectantly into the incarnation is to affirm the eschatological hope of the future while at the same time be transformed by that very hope already at work in the present. To observe Advent isn’t simply to reenact a memory of the past or look towards a second coming someday, for both would implicitly assume a present absence of the divine. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, forever transforming possible modes of being in this world. To anticipate the fulfillment of this hope is to accept the new way of being that broke into our world with the incarnation of the long expected Jesus.
It is safe to in remembrance await the coming of a powerless child or to simply tinker with the language and rituals that comfort us with the promise that the liberating hope of Christ is something we can only await. What is seemingly far more difficult is to actually live into the alternate reality that the advent of Christ ushered into the present. To anticipate hope by actively going out to meet it. To await the coming of the Kingdom of God by living in it right now. To declare that the status quos of injustice, oppression, and suffering have no place in the transformed new creation of Christ.
We are not the ones creating hope, but neither are we the ones simply awaiting a future hope. Advent reminds us that hope in the form of Jesus has already broken into our world. To live in expectation of that hope is to live into it – to embody the alternate reality Jesus made possible. The world and even the church may resist this subversion of the status quo even as they incant the very refrain “Come thou long expected Jesus,” for they have safely bracketed off hope in the past and future. Expecting to encounter the transforming and liberating hope of Jesus in the present is the far more difficult aspect of the incarnation to await.