In the wake of such a stunning and polarizing election season, Americans have entered into a strange time of anticipation and trepidation, waiting for the inauguration of the new president. Thankfully it seems some kind of normalcy is returning to the public square. Make no mistake, the ugliness and sharp division that this election cycle has caused to rise to the surface has not gone away. The issues of related to race, gender, immigration, multiculturalism, terrorism, economic inequality, etc. will all need to be sorted out. But not today. For now Americans will live in this time of waiting for Friday, January 20, 2017, Inauguration Day.
Christians too have entered into a season of waiting, but we are not waiting on the inauguration of the president. We are waiting on the coming of a Savior who is Christ the Lord. For us this time of waiting is a season we call Advent, the beginning of the Christian calendar.
The World Behind Me
I did not grow up in a church that observed the liturgical calendar. We didn’t even use the word “liturgical.” I grew up in the faith in my teenage years in a context shaped by Scripture, Sunday school, weekly worship, prayer meetings, and Bible studies. I am thankful for these formative practices during this time. I can see how much of my faith today was solidified by a Christian experience rooted in the local church saturated in the sacredness of Scripture and a desire to follow Jesus.
I remember the songs we sang back then. I remember singing “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” with my eyes closed and my heart open. The song ends with these lines:
The world behind me, the cross before me
The world behind me, the cross before me
The world behind me, the cross before me
No turning back, no turning back
We have crossed through the waters of baptism and stepped into God’s new creation with the revolutionary cross leading the way. In following Jesus we keep the cross in front of us with our backs to the world. The gravitational pull of the cross keeps us in a cruciform orbit, transforming us into cross-shaped and cross-bearing people. In this way, the world (i.e. the world’s system built on idolatry and injustice) is behind us, so that we are no longer being conformed to the ways of the broken down world. Through his death, Jesus rescues us from this present evil age (Galatians 1:4) and our anthem is “no turning back, no turning back.”The gravitational pull of the cross keeps us in a cruciform orbit. Click To Tweet
And yet as followers of Jesus we find ourselves living and worshiping, working, and playing, in the world where the winds of secularism blow through our open windows. Our current version of “the present evil age” is a secular age where people attempt to do life without God. Our children do not take classes in the study of secularism in order to learn what it means to blot out the presence of God from everyday life. Secularism does not need to be explicitly taught; it is in the air we breathe.
When we talk about the “world” which is behind us, we are talking about a thoroughly secular world. We need the story of Scripture to silence the noisy participants of the secular world, but I am not convinced Scripture alone can empower us to resist the destructive power of secularism. Left to our own devices, we can read Scripture as secular people and completely miss the entire story the Bible is telling. We need Scripture, but we need more than that. We need a Christian calendar that grounds us in the story of Jesus transforming and saving the world.
Advent is About Waiting
The Christian calendar (or “liturgical calendar”) begins not with the birth of Jesus on Christmas day, but with the expectation of Jesus’ birth during the season of Advent. The birth of Jesus, the miracle of incarnation, is such a life-altering, world-changing event, we cannot jump right into it. We have to back up and remember the context. We need a savior, because we live in a world where everything is broken. Advent is not about doing; it is about waiting.Advent is not about doing; it is about waiting. Click To Tweet
Patience has never been a popular virtue in Western civilization and it has gained no points in popularity in our broad-band, high-speed, digital age. We want what we want and we want it now. We want entertainment now. We want communication now. We want social transformation now. We want political change now. But as Christians we are being formed by a story that teaches us to wait. We want to fix things, but the Christian story does not offer solutions of the man-made variety. The Christian story that begins with Advent doesn’t offer a solution at all; it offers a Savior.The Christian story that begins with Advent doesn’t offer a solution; it offers a Savior. Click To Tweet
Advent is such a strange time for Christians, because while we crank up the Christmas music while putting up the Christmas tree, and stroll from Christmas party to Christmas party, we are also reminding ourselves of the darkness all around us. Advent forces us to set aside yuletide joy for moments of Christian lament. Things are broken. Creation is groaning. People are raging. The fighting is strong. We are sitting “in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). What are we supposed to do? Our gut-level reaction may be to do something, but Advent teaches us to wait.Advent forces us to set aside yuletide joy for moments of Christian lament. Click To Tweet
Enter into the Advent Season
We mark the season of Advent by the four Sundays before Christmas Day. The First Sunday of Advent is November 27, which is perfect in that Advent is the Christian response to the madness of Black Friday, one of the many unholy secular holidays. In fact, all the consumer-driven frenzy of Black Friday comes to an abrupt halt with Advent.
If you do not attend a church that observes the Sundays of Advent, you can still enter into the Advent season using a number of resources available online. You can use the Daily Office Lectionary for specific Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings for the days of Advent. If you need a little more structure check out Rich Villodas’ Advent Daily Office Devotional. This 25-day devotional gives you a guide for morning and evening (or midday) prayer during Advent.
If you don’t do anything else during Advent then at least slow down.
Put down your phone.
Turn off the TV.
Close your eyes.
Look for Jesus. He is coming.
Missio Alliance Comment Policy
The Missio Alliance Writing Collectives exist as a ministry of writing to resource theological practitioners for mission. From our Leading Voices to our regular Writing Team and those invited to publish with us as Community Voices, we are creating a space for thoughtful engagement of critical issues and questions facing the North American Church in God’s mission. This sort of thoughtful engagement is something that we seek to engender not only in our publishing, but in conversations that unfold as a result in the comment section of our articles.
Unfortunately, because of the relational distance introduced by online communication, “thoughtful engagement” and “comment sections” seldom go hand in hand. At the same time, censorship of comments by those who disagree with points made by authors, whose anger or limited perspective taints their words, or who simply feel the need to express their own opinion on a topic without any meaningful engagement with the article or comment in question can mask an important window into the true state of Christian discourse. As such, Missio Alliance sets forth the following suggestions for those who wish to engage in conversation around our writing:
1. Seek to understand the author’s intent.
If you disagree with something the an author said, consider framing your response as, “I hear you as saying _________. Am I understanding you correctly? If so, here’s why I disagree. _____________.
2. Seek to make your own voice heard.
We deeply desire and value the voice and perspective of our readers. However you may react to an article we publish or a fellow commenter, we encourage you to set forth that reaction is the most constructive way possible. Use your voice and perspective to move conversation forward rather than shut it down.
3. Share your story.
One of our favorite tenants is that “an enemy is someone whose story we haven’t heard.” Very often disagreements and rants are the result of people talking past rather than to one another. Everyone’s perspective is intimately bound up with their own stories – their contexts and experiences. We encourage you to couch your comments in whatever aspect of your own story might help others understand where you are coming from.
In view of those suggestions for shaping conversation on our site and in an effort to curate a hospitable space of open conversation, Missio Alliance may delete comments and/or ban users who show no regard for constructive engagement, especially those whose comments are easily construed as trolling, threatening, or abusive.