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Advent 3 – From Our Fears and Sins Release Us

2011 December 11
by Julie Clawson

Come thou long expected Jesus, Born to set thy people free; From our fears and sins release us…

Living into the expectation of the incarnation is not a passive endeavor. Anticipating Advent is not about quietistic waiting but living into promised hope and freedom. It is letting the breaking in of Christ into our world release us from systems of fear that entrap us and patterns of sin that deny the very hope of the incarnation. Traditionally in the Western church Advent was a time of prayer, fasting, and acts of service (it still is in the Eastern Church). One did not wait simply to wait; one prepared oneself to meet the coming Christ by disciplining oneself in the very liberating ways of Christ. The advent of Christ in the past and the promised reconciling advent of Christ in the future are remembered and anticipated by living into the advent of Christ in the present through these acts of discipleship. Christ suffered so that we could have this freedom and hope, so we therefore accept this freedom from fear and sin by disciplining ourselves into becoming ever more Christ-like. It is not a tedious waiting around, but an embodied anticipation that consumes every moment of our lives.

So it is curious that during this time of year that instead of anticipating Christ by accepting our freedom from fear and sin by imitating Christ and doing likewise for others, we instead use our freedom to create systems of fear for others. Advent is less about preparation and discipline these days as it is forcing others to live in fear of Christians. For some their freedom in Christ has become justification for insisting that all people orient their lives around catering to them. A culture of fear is created where their freedom is upheld at all costs, even at the expense of the freedom of others. Freedom becomes for some less about Christ’s redeeming and reconciling work and more about ensuring their freedom by insisting that everyone else become exactly like them. Christ’s offer is therefore repeatedly cheapened each time they insist that their freedom isn’t real unless, for instance, atheists, Jews, Muslims, and commercial centers fearfully sacrifice their freedoms and acknowledge a certain interpretation of Jesus as the reason for the season.

Instead of accepting the freedom Christ offered through his suffering by accepting a life that embraces even suffering (or simply the mild inconvenience of exposure to the other) in order to do the same for others, Christians are insisting that others suffer for them. But insisting that others proclaim what should be the liberating and reconciling name of Christ by threatening to boycott their businesses or bringing lawsuits against them isn’t to live into the expectation of the incarnation. Can one truly have witnessed to hope and embraced release from fear and sin if one’s visible response to such is to in turn force others into a place of fear devoid of hope? As in the parable Jesus tells of the unforgiving servant, it does not represent the kingdom of God to accept ones freedom and forgiveness by then turning around and oppressing others.

The breaking in of Christ into the world changed everything. We actively await the advent of Christ by accepting the gift of Christ’s first advent. But what Christ offered was the gift of a new identity, of new creation. Living into that identity takes work; it takes discipline. New creations do not repeat the fearful patterns of this world by pushing them off onto others while hoarding the supposed blessings of freedom for themselves. To anticipate the gift of advent requires radical change of those that wait. As Jürgen Moltmann wrote of this promise of advent past, present, and future,

Every gift involves change. When unjust men and women are justified, the consequence is that they are sent out to work for more social justice. When peaceless men and women are reconciled, the consequence is that they are sent out to make peace in the conflicts of this society. There can be no other response for Christians to their experience of God.

If we expect God we have to respond to God as God calls us to respond. Releasing us from our fears and sins is never a call for us to bind others with the same. Waiting for the breaking in of Christ in this world is not a sanctioning of actions that oppose the very way of Christ. Maybe it would therefore be helpful to return to Advent as a disciplined period of prayer, fasting, and good works. Perhaps then we could anticipate the incarnation by actually incarnating Christ in the world.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. December 11, 2011

    I love the Moltmann quote! Of course, the consequence is that I now need to use it myself.

  2. December 11, 2011

    And if you’re as depression- and anxiety-ridden as I am, you need all the liberation you can get!

    (Of course sometimes I don’t want to be liberated, but that’s another story.)

  3. September 23, 2015

    Didn’t Gandhi engage in “non-violent, non-cooperation” and boycotts in response to what he perceived to be the immoral oppression of British rule over India? I am remembering, of course, that Gandhi was greatly influenced by Tolstoy, who was a Christian-anarchist.

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