We are adrift. I know that seems dramatic, but it becomes increasingly apparent that, in this post-modern malaise our lives can often drift on without a meaningful sense of direction bar the odd spurt of intentionality or a passing moment of stirred emotion.
Into the fray walks, the much neglected practise of the Christian calendar. A calendar that was designed to imbue every year of our lives with a steady retelling of the Gospel. This life time immersion in the story which is intended to tell us how the world really is, is desperately needed in a world in which we are thrown left and right by every new offer of a ‘big story’.
As Christians have discovered again and again throughout history, our individual, family, tribal, and national lives end up as small claustrophobic stories. Stories which, ultimately, fail at the task of weaving a narrative that catches up all of creation in the loving gaze of it’s creator.
A fixation on these smaller stories, is, to return to the opening metaphor, like fixing the vessel of our lives to an untethered buoy, somehow believing that is in in fact an anchor. The buoy may help us to position ourselves, but it does not bring us into contact with the firm and stable structures that underpin our very existence.
Do not misunderstand me, it is not that attending to our personal, familial and cultural stories is unimportant. If we neglect to take stock of these and how they have shaped us, we will not have a keen enough grasp on our own reality to offer it back to God. But we cannot lose grip on the main thing, to take what is ours and offer onto the altar of God which refines, tranfigures, and multiplys our small lives into a participation in the everlasting life of God.
So, here we stand at the beginning of the Church year, a year which has ordered the lives of a faithful remnant for almost 20 centuries. This Christian year tethers us to the story of God but also to the saints around the world, who in the variety and diversity of their lives and contexts are joined as one Church. The hope is, as we immerse our lives in this rehearsal of God’s story, we will go out into the world prepared by this, simulataneously other and this worldly story to be God’s actors in the continuing plot line of his unfolding rule and reign.
Even as I mention this as the beginning of the Church year, the majority of us who organise our lives around the Gregorian calendar of January to December, may experience a sense of disoreintation and exhaustion. In your mind you are heading the end of the year, a break from the normal rigour of activities and an expectation of time with friends, family and repose. Others anticipate this season another way, the clatter of consumerism fills your heart with painful anticipation that whatever you buy for those you love, however hard you work in preparing meals and times together, it will never be enough. It will never be the exuberant and abundant Christmas time sold to us by adverts and movies. We are haunted by a world which sees more as more, and offers us yearly clemancy from our relational wrong doings by buying excessive gifts which offer to cover a multitude of sins.
Which ever of these anticipations fills your heart and soul this time of year, advent offers a different focus of anticipation. Advent invites you to rehearse the thousands of years where the jewish people longed for the rule and reign of messiah. One who would finally liberate people from the subjugation of slavery, first from Egypt and later Rome. We join in with their historical longing in order to see the familiar afresh. To recognise the inbreaking of God’s kingdom in the coming of the Son in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth. Advent invites us to rehearse the longing of the jewish people for two primary reasons.
Firstly, so that we can be renewed in our delight that the Messiah has come, and in turn welcomed all nations into God’s very own fellowship.
Secondly, we take time to consider our own longings so that we can align with the Church for 2000 years in desiring the return of Christ our King. Longing for the end times might seem like a strange thing to do at this time of year. For many, the end times is a realm of obscurity made harder by the figurative language of revelation and made kitsch by the pulp-worthy paper backs offering time lines for the apocalypse. But Advent invites us to recognise that the things we long for; relational wholeness, healing, justice and peace are ultimately resolved in the return of the King. In Advent we are given the oppurtunity to reflect and realise that, as the classic Carol says, “the hopes and fears of all our years, are met in thee tonight.”
The traditional Christian calendar is peppered with more festivals than one can remember; yet, its the seasons of waiting, lamenting, and expectation that are significantly longer if you count their continuous days. This is because, in one sense, the time in between the first and second coming of Christ is one long and extended Advent. God has initiated his coming, and yet the fullness of what will be is nowhere near being seen. So we wait, with baited breath for the return of the King.