Advent is a Threshold
The time of Advent is a threshold, a gateway, a bridge. We are crossing over the threshold into a new year of grace. We are passing through the gate into a new circling into the transforming life of Christ. We are traversing the bridge into a new and deeper becoming, into a holy future now.
The scriptural themes of Advent continue the themes of the readings of the last Sundays of the church year. It is not yet Christmas. When we step into this sacred time of the church year, we step into a blurring of future, present, past. On the Last Sunday of the Church year, we may have heard the words from the Revelation of John: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, who was, who is, who is to come." At the other bookend of this season, at Christmas, we hear the opening sentences of John's Gospel: "In the beginning was the Word..." Future becomes past.
Zechariah sings, "God . . . has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them," and Mary sings in the Magnificat, "God has filled the hungry with good things..." Christ the Divine from the last Sunday in the church year moves through Advent toward Christ the Human. Future enters past and becomes present. This is the way we experience the meaning of Advent's coming: here, now.
Advent is not only a time of waiting. It is a period of four weeks infused with the impact of God's future now. Advent's days are prayerfully active, and its actions are shaped by the Christ festivals that begin and end it: Christ reigns, God is with us. We are beloved, we may worship without fear, we shout aloud, for great in our midst is the Holy One. Future enters past and becomes present.
Who was, Who is, Who is to come.
Advent is not only a time of waiting for Jesus to be born.
The Latin adventus means coming, presence.
The coming of Advent is not some past event fondly recalled that we then pretend to wish to come. It is the very real inbreaking of future and past into the present here. It challenges us to see God's future and live it as a present reality. It calls us. It changes us. It prepares us to become the dwelling place of God. Advent does not mean wishing; advent means coming.
The God-with-us that the Church will celebrate at Christmas permeates the preceding four weeks with a presence of the Holy. Zephaniah the prophet declares, "The Lord your God is in your midst...": (3:17) How will God's people show forth this coming, this presence?
In Jeremiah's prophecy, God declares "I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land . . . And this is the name by which [Jerusalem] will be called: 'The Lord is our righteousness' (Jeremiah 33:15,16). Righteousness is the active, living sign of God's future. Righteousness - in Hebrew, tzedekah: the acts of mercy and compassion which are expected of God's people. Justice. The people living in the coming of Advent are people alive in the righteousness that the presence of the Most Holy God bestows, bringing forth a harvest of good fruit, holy and righteous in God's sight.
Advent is not only waiting, it is the stirring of the living God within God's people to live lives rife with God. Advent is not only watching, it is the active becoming of God's people pressed in upon by future and past to live a holy present. For adult followers of Christ, Advent is not waiting for the baby Jesus to be born. God has lifted up the lowly. Past is present. The hope that fills Advent is not for a maybe-perhaps-not yet event. Future is now. Who was, who is, who is to come. May it be so.
Susan Palo Cherwien
Cherwien is a gifted and noted author, musician and poet with many books, poetry, hymn texts and other work to her credit. She has written numerous hymn texts that appear in denominational hymnals in the United States and Canada. Cherwien graduated from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, with a Bachelor of Music degree in church music and a vocal emphasis. She earned her Master of Arts degree from Mundelein College, Chicago, Illinois.
Mary/Christ Child Illustration: Frank Kacmarcik
Collage design: Daniel Kantor, iStock