Advent is a coming, not our coming to God, but his to us. We cannot come to God, he is beyond our reach; but he can come to us, for we are not beneath his mercy.
– from The Crown of the Year by Austin Farrer, Priest and friend of C.S. Lewis
It seems very fitting that we are starting our new publication in Advent. The early followers of Jesus were called “people of The Way” before they were widely called Christians. The new title of our newsletter, On the Way, describes the journey we all undertake when we decide to follow the path of Jesus Christ. It reflects the idea that we are on a pilgrimage from God, who created us, back to God, who will one day judge, purify, and restore us. This is the overriding theme of Advent.
On any journey, we begin at the beginning. In the church year, Advent is that beginning. Not Christmas, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, not Easter, when we celebrate his resurrection, but Advent, when we look forward in anticipation to God’s coming to us. Advent is the time when we wait for Emmanuel – God with us, God within us – to come and to come again. It is a time of eager anticipation for Christ’s coming, and a time during which we await his coming again. It is when we prepare ourselves for the journey we take together with Jesus Christ.
We Americans aren’t very good at waiting. We are used to living in a society where instant gratification is a the norm. Microwave ovens give us instant cooking. Telephones give us instant communication. Television gives us instant entertainment. Through Facebook and Twitter, the internet gives us instant community and relationships. We’ve become conditioned to expect medicines to give us quick relief from our pain and politicians to come up with quick solutions to our long standing problems. And we’ve come to believe that we can achieve anything, if we’re willing to apply our own effort and hard work.
But we cannot find God through our own efforts; we ourselves can only travel so far. God is too large, too wide, too deep, too far, for us to comprehend. And so God came to us in Christ Jesus. He meets us at the beginning of our journey and walks with us along the way. Everywhere we look, he confronts us with his love, and leads us by the hand back to God. He is the child that we hold in our arms and put to bed at night. He is the stranger that we meet in the parking lot at Walmart. He is the woman who lives alone and the man locked in prison with a hundred others. He is in our joy, of course, but also in our struggles and pain and darkness. He confronts us, and through that confrontation we come to see God face to face. We see that God is with us, because God is in us.
Advent is the season when we prepare for our journey. It is the season when we listen to ancient stories about longing and hope and waiting for God to come. It is a time when we pack our spiritual bags for a journey from the broken-toy reality of this world, with its focus on instant gratification and consumption, to the reality of Christ, where God broke into the world at a manger in Bethlehem. The people of The Way are immigrants, preparing to leave a place that we know all too well to be a hollow place, so that we can return to a place where we are known by God – a place of enduring justice and eternal peace.
The hope of Advent is that God is coming for us, soon! And so we watch, and wait, and keep awake. We keep our bags packed, as we await the arrival of Emmanuel.