Time — how it’s used and its soul-shaping quality — is very important in Christian spirituality. The daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms of our lives are not a neutral aspect of the life of faith. This has always been recognized in our tradition. Early Christians, using the Jewish rhythm (feasts, holy days, etc.) as a point of departure, began to think of the yearly Christian experience in seasons. This is where we get the idea of the church calendar. Advent is first such season, the first season of the Christian year.
Advent is the season before Christmas, designed to anticipate Christmas celebration. Advent intends to guide us into the desperate longing and somewhat frustrated waiting that has always been associated with life of the people of God.
Longing and waiting for God to come, to rescue, to fulfill, to deliver, to restore, to make things new and right. Think of profound things for which you were required to wait. Think of that sense of frustration, angst, joy, anticipation, and longing you felt. That feeling comes close to the heart of the Advent season.
The Advent season enters us into the longing of the people of Israel, as they hoped and anticipated the arrival of God’s anointed, king-like figure, in the line of David, foretold in the shadowy, mythic oracles of the prophets.
At Advent, we also enter into longing and waiting of Christians everywhere, as we hope and anticipate the re-arrival of Christ. The great Christian hope is that he will appear to finish the job he started. To re-assert his rule and reign in a final, complete way.
The Christian journey is lived in the tension of these two Advents, arrivals, comings. God’s kingdom’s re-establishment has been launched in Jesus’ arrival. This kingdom is here, but not quite fully here yet. It will be here fully eventually, but for now we wait. If this living-between-the-comings doesn’t explain a lot about our lives and our world, I don’t know what else does. Advent brings these two comings before our hearts and minds. Professor David Taylor writes, “Advent asks: ‘How does the original coming of God to earth and the future, eschatological coming of God inform our experience of God's coming here and now?’”
At Advent, we remember we desperately need God to come. Some have called Advent a “Little Lent” because it asks that we search our hearts, examine the darkness and neediness found there, confess and repent from sin, and anticipate God’s grace, mercy, and redemption.
Advent is the season when we enter into this story. When, in a uniquely focused manner, we read, think, pray, long, wait, and hope along these lines: Christ came, but Christ also comes into our lives in fresh and new ways, and Christ will come again. This is the spirit of the Advent season.