Sunday, November 29, 2015 - First Sunday of Advent

Advent 2015

"Knowing Advent"


             A vivid memory that will follow me to the grave, or perish in the black hole of Alzheimer's, is the last Riddle family reunion I attended in the late 1980s.  My maternal grandfather, who was a fundamentalist Baptist pastor from Alabama, announced that he no longer believed Jesus would return in his lifetime.  His words     stunned everyone.

             The Baptist churches where my grandfather served as pastor could have been attached to poles and carried from town to town.  They were not unlike the churches already built there.  Worship was simple:  an opening hymn, a prayer, announcements, two more hymns, a sermon, the invitation, and a final prayer.  Easter, Christmas, and Mother's Day were the only holy days observed.  The calendar was not liturgical; it was Gregorian and tacked onto Sunday School walls throughout the building.    

Now I've been asked to write about Advent, and I'll admit I had to look up the definition.  Until Norma Finley kindly gifted an Advent wreath to my wife last Christmas, Advent might as well have been a Japanese car or a painkiller to me.

My research showed that Advent concerns the Jewish expectation of the coming Messiah.  Advent is the Latin word translated from the Greek word parousia, so it carries an expectation beyond yuletide.  In the Christian liturgical calendar Advent consists of four weeks to spiritually prepare for Christmas.

Marcus Borg, a recently deceased religion professor and Christian writer, says Advent is one of those "thin places" spoken of in Celtic Christianity.  Thin places are those times when the reality of God's presence breaks into our awareness.

Hebrew prophets claimed to have such awareness.  They envisioned a society where God's rule would create justice among nations.  Jesus came and proclaimed God's rule.  He was executed for it.  An expectation that Jesus will return is church doctrine.

Are we waiting for Jesus today?  The spirit of our times is as brutal and unjust as any time in the past.  A revival of religious murder wounds humanity even now, though science has cast doubt on the thinking that undergirds holy book literalism.  Like many Jews of Jesus' day, Christians are waiting for God to show up and fix humanity.  

There are signs that a profound expectation exists in the world.  Consider the wondrous advent of Pope Francis in church history.  The enthusiasm for this pope has been unlike anything I've ever seen.  Roman Catholics venerate him.  Many Protestants adore him.  After he washed the feet of women at a halfway house, I began to follow his "popery" with admiring fascination.

Pope Francis' ministry has shown a deep yearning for Christ that exists in the world.  Millions long to see the love of Jesus that was promised to heal humanity millennia ago.

That expectation is Advent.  The Church must fulfill that expectation so humanity can be saved from itself.  We, the Church, may truly have always been the last best hope for humanity.  If that is true, then humanity has waited for centuries to see the incarnation of Christ in the lives of church members all over the world.

Were my grandfather alive today, I would remind him that Jesus did return during his lifetime.  Others, like Simeon in Luke's birth narrative, beheld Jesus each time my grandfather's love, and the love of any Christian, revealed the salvation of God.


- Bill Heard


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