December 20, 2012

Advent Mashup

Truth is, among Christian folk of various stripes, Advent is a mess.

Some say it is the season for preparing for Christmas day, for celebrating the big Birth. In that way, it looks backwards. Others have taught that it is a big block of time for looking forward to what the Bible calls, in the New Testament’s great Greek, the parousia -- a second appearing (some say coming) of the Lord.

Some have said: No carols, no sentiment, no festive celebrations. “Not until Christmas!” Advent is for penitent preparation, a Christian holding-back against the world’s excessive consumption. Fair point. Still others: “Ring the bells, throw your parties, pull out the old familiar tunes sooner than later! Why should Christmas wait until, well, Christmas?” I suppose.

Backward or forward? Restrained or festive? In the words of that great holiday philosopher, Charlie Brown: “We're obviously separated by denominational differences.” 

From the Latin adventus, the word basically means “coming.” The implied arrival indicates a spacial movement that is intended to fire the Christian imagination. “Come, Lord Jesus,” cries the ancient bidding prayer. Whether one imagines the familiar first coming (the nativity scene) or an inexplicable second (the world yet to come), the point of Advent is this: He comes from a place quite other than our own. “[Let it be here] on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray each week in the Jesus-taught prayer. Implication: What is already true there, where he is, is not yet thoroughly true here. 

That fact remains baldly obvious in Newtown, Connecticut; sometimes more subtle in our town, Pennsylvania. But whether there or here, whether wounds are gaping or closed or somewhere in between, still we Advent believers learn to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Make it so in our space what must surely be real in yours.”

For what’s left of Advent: Lay off the sweets and swags and be mindful of a strained, stained world. Or put out the party platter, cue up the Steamroller, and celebrate with all your pals a blessed baby boy. Remember Mary and Joseph and the angels way back when, or ask yourself about tomorrow, “What would I do if I only had one more day?” Backward or forward, doleful or merry ... Either way, until and beyond the 25th of this now ambiguous month, just keep praying,

Lord Jesus ... come.