“Our faith story takes a different turn.”
This week, the Church begins a new liturgical year, with the four weeks of the season of Advent. This season of expectant waiting for Christ’s coming started yesterday and will end on the eve before Christmas. But with all the cultural and social hype on Christmas—with all the Christmas decorations that we see around us, the Christmas carols that fill the air, and of course the many Christmas parties that would soon fill up our schedules—all seem to distract us from awaiting the joyous feast of Christ’s nativity.
The idea of waiting seemed to never properly fit comfortably into our uneasy and impatient human nature. In the midst of a consumer culture that goes for fast, instant and usually affordable service —waiting seems to be an unwelcome inconvenience. Delayed gratification is a thing our generation talks about, but it is not something we are ready to practice, at least not as often as this time of the year.
What makes waiting even difficult for many is that we already know how the story ends. After Advent comes Christmas, in the same way that Easter Sunday comes after Good Friday. Familiarity, it is often said, breeds contempt, and with every year that we mark Advent, the story tends to become too ordinary, losing the dramatic impact that it should have in our salvation history.
Our elder brothers in the faith, the Jews, knew perfectly how waiting meant to their faith story. The first among the patriarchs, Abraham, waited for decades before God’s promise to make him the “father of many nations” was realized. The ancient Hebrews waited for many centuries before Moses delivered them from slavery, only to spend another 40 years in the desert before they finally would set foot in the promised land. The Jewish nation waited for a long succession of judges to pass before God granted them David to be their king, and for many years of worshipping in a tent to happen before Solomon finally built a temple for their religion. Many of the Israelites were later exiled to foreign lands, and waited for many generations before finally returning to the land of their ancestors. Even until today, the Jews of our times continue to wait for the coming of the Messiah.
For us, Christians, the Messiah finally came in Jesus Christ, and for that reason, our faith story takes a different turn. The waiting would now be attuned to Christ’s second coming, and the yearly celebration of Christ’s birth would serve to remind us our salvation has finally come, so that amidst the trying circumstances of our daily life, we would not easily give into despair and loneliness. Christmas reminds us not to forget God’s saving power, made manifest in Christ being born in the flesh.
This is why in addition to expectantly waiting for the celebration of Christmas, Advent also invites us to focus on the coming of God’s kingdom. As Christ himself took our human nature and embraced our humanity, we are also asked to respond affirmatively to live according to an exceedingly beautiful story of salvation. Realizing that Christ came two thousand years ago, we cannot behave as if the Savior had not come. We need to confront in us a true yearning for salvation, and an authentic openness to God’s grace.
So, Advent is not only a time to await the feast of Christ’s birth or his second coming at the end of time. It is a thoughtful call for us to live as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come.” It is by accepting the folly of our ways, and the wickedness of our sins, can we honestly say with conviction, “Lord, your kingdom come.”
The coming of Christ’s reign means to accept with greater fidelity, God’s authority over our own lives – no matter how demanding or difficult it may be. It means allowing our faith to permeate every area of our lives, including matters like citizenship and politics. It requires that as Christians, we cannot keep our lives – our politics included – secular, but instead for us to be willing to always perceive even the most mundane matter with the eyes of faith. It implies that it is our Christian duty to be engaged in the world, and enable our faith to contribute towards the flourishing of a human society based on justice, peace and freedom.
Perhaps, of all Christian traditions, Christmas has made the deepest imprint on human society. The fact alone that Christmas Day is observed as a non-working holiday in more than 90 percent of all countries around the world tells us so much about how the story of Christ’s birth two thousand years ago means to many people of diverse cultures, languages and even faith. In fact, Christmas contributes significantly to our year-end spending, consequently upping our economy. It has become a fitting time for families to reunite and reconnect, and for communities to do many acts of goodness for others.
In many ways, the pervading influence of Christmas reminds us that the promise to establish Christ’s reign in this world is more than just a theological proposition. It is a reality that as Christians, we are all called to create in our society and in our economy, in our businesses and our professions. It is to the same extent that Advent reminds us that the correct ordering of society is inseparably connected to the unfolding of God’s redemptive work.
So, we wait for the coming of Christ and his kingdom – in our time and in the world to come. Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.