Waking Up to Advent

The season of Advent is here. Thank God.

I need Advent.
I enjoy Christmas, but I need Advent.

Christmas is easy to get excited about, it involves babies and barnyard animals. Even the most cynical person can feel okay playing along with the joy of Christmas, at least for a day. But the baby that was born on Christmas day eventually is killed on a cross. So if Christmas is all I get, then cynicism is all I’m left with.

Which is why I need Advent.

Advent suggests that there is something more to this whole Christmas story than just a cute baby being born and placed to rest in a petting zoo. Advent reminds me there is another side of reality, if I’m willing to open my eyes to see it.

There is a scene from the Gospel of Mark where Jesus is walking and talking with his disciples in the middle of the city of Jerusalem. The disciples are gawking at the majesty, splendor, and sheer size of the Temple. One disciple turned to Jesus and said, “Look at those awesome stones and buildings!” Jesus essentially replied, “Yeah, they’re big, but they won’t last. This building is gonna be completely demolished.”

The disciples, obviously a little perplexed, asked a completely normal follow-up question; “When?”
To which Jesus gave a completely normal (yet unsatisfying) answer; “I don’t know.”

Jesus eventually tells a story about a man who owns an estate and goes on a trip, leaving his household in the care of his servants. The task of the servants is to keep things running while the master is away. They don’t know when he is coming back. They just have to stay focused, keep working, and keep alert, waiting for the return of the master.

The temptation would be to begin to think that the master is gone forever, died while away. The estate is now up for grabs. The servants will start fending for themselves – will start living out of self-preservation and fear, functioning on the basis of scarcity. There is no longer a master, there is only what is available for me to gain.

But the point Jesus makes in the story is to keep alert. Wake up!
The master isn’t truly gone; he is still in control. If you think that you can start living as if you’re on your own, then you are dreaming. That isn’t how things actually are!

Advent is a time when I am reminded to stay awake! To be aware of the reality of the situation.

It is so easy for me to become cynical. I look around at the world, or I dare to look inside at my own brokenness, and what I see is a household abandoned and left to the servants. Everything is up for grabs. If I don’t get mine, someone else will. If I don’t win, I’ll lose. All the evidence available to me suggests that violence is the way to success, and pain is to be drowned out and numbed away by any means necessary. Relationships will break, so best to avoid them. Stress and anxiety are the norm, so just learn to cope. Fear of failure and the unknown drive me, so I grapple for control of everything.

But Advent invites me to wake up! I can’t buy into the lie that I am all that’s left in this world worth protecting. The dreams of my broken ego are not reality, no matter how vivid they may seem. There is a power still at work that is greater than my fear.

Advent suggests a different narrative than the one offered by this age. Things are not exactly as they seem. True, there is deep brokenness in this world. There is brokenness within my own life. But the solution is not to turn inward and set to work on fixing myself. I’m incapable of doing the work that needs to be done. My intellect, strength, and willpower cannot save me. After all, even the majestic Temple in Jerusalem, a paragon of human ingenuity, one day collapsed.

My task is to love abundantly, even if that means risking rejection. My task is to hope recklessly, even if that seems naive. My task is to be an agent of peace, even if that means stepping unarmed into the midst of violence.

Each day is a new opportunity to wake up to the grace of the moment. Seeing, maybe for the first time, that healing and wholeness aren’t possible without brokenness, new life doesn’t happen without the pain of birth.

I’m captivated by the fact that I discover deeper and richer peace the more I am awake to the fact that this world (myself included) is not-quite-right, not at peace. The more rigorously honest I am about the need for restoration in my soul and my city, the more they seem to become restored.

It’s a mystery and a paradox. It is grace. It is the gift of being awake and aware of reality as it actually is.

So thank God for Advent.

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