The Advent of Hope
…you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep…the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Romans 13:11-12
The annual season of Advent begins this year on Sunday, November 29. Advent has several interesting and important meanings. First, it signifies a time of waiting. Specifically, it is a time of waiting for the birth of the Christ-child. Second, Advent points to a new beginning, as in the advent of a new age. Third, Advent points to an approach, which is to say that something worthy of our attention is drawing near. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Advent is a time of preparation.
The season of Advent includes the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day. Many churches designate four themes for the season, one for each of the Sundays of Advent. The traditional themes are Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Each of these themes, in turn, is intended to help focus our waiting and preparation for what is approaching. The Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love give a hint about the nature of what we are waiting for. The wisdom of the themes and the nature of what is approaching will be my focus during these weeks leading to Christmas Day.
The theme of Hope is a subtle, but profound illustration of this time of waiting. Indeed, hope embodies waiting. After something we have hoped for arrives, we no longer need to hope for it. Until it arrives, however, we must wait. In general, we do not wait well. We have grown used to being able to cross the country in a few hours and to access eons of information without so much as a trip to the library. We are all about efficiency, and there is already seemingly more to be done than hours in the day. For many of us, the thought of Christmas approaching is an enormous threat to our status quo. On top of everything else we are not getting done, we now add shopping, decorating, and other energy-sucking activities that represent what Christmas has become, though not what Christmas was intended to be. And that is one reason Advent is a difficult, counter-cultural, and easily-ignored season. A good beginning for Advent is to hope for better.
The birth of the Christ-child is a much deeper mystery than what is embodied in most of our Christmas preparations. The Christ-child is not simply a child born 2000 years ago to Jewish peasants in the Middle East. The mystery is contained in the name Emmanuel, which means God with us. The birth of the Christ-child occurs outside of our understanding of space and time. What we hope for is a new birth within us. This is the birth of a holier version of ourselves – the true self we know ourselves to be deep inside. This is where we connect with God, and this is where the Christ-child is born. This birth is not like a physical birth where a previously non-existent being comes out of its mother. Rather, it is an awakening to what is already present, a revealing of the divine spark that has burned within us since before we were born to our earthly life. What we wait and hope for is the undeniable realization that we come from and remain connected to God – always have been, always will be.
This is our hope: that we would know, or perhaps remember ourselves as the Beloved of God. This is our rebirth, being reborn in the knowledge of our preciousness to God regardless of what we have done or who we have been. That pure seed inside of us remains undefiled by whatever has happened to us. This is the birth of or awakening to the Christ-child within. It is our gift of Christmas. We cannot earn it; we can only hope to become present to it. For this we wait. For this we prepare. For this we hope. Once we know we are already beloved children of God, then we can begin the journey of becoming or acting like children of God.
Our preparation necessarily involves intentionally putting ourselves in situations conducive to connecting with God within us, or perhaps a better analogy is putting ourselves in situations that are conducive to allowing God within us to emerge. We do this by slowing down, not by speeding up; by seeking quiet spaces for study and reflection, not by entering the chaos; by learning what God with us means, not by sitting on Santa’s lap. These are the actions that bring the Advent of Hope.
For a musical meditation on Hope, you can click on this link: https://youtu.be/4g5xD8igcTE
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