This is a reflection I was asked to write for our local church on this first Sunday of Advent.
WAITING IN THE DARKNESS
Did you know that historically, within Church tradition, Advent is not primarily about the birth of Jesus at Christmas? Rather, for centuries it has been practiced more as a time of waiting in darkness for Jesus’ second coming, the final ‘day of the Lord’. In other words, if Jesus comes first as a saviour, Advent looks forward to his return as judge.
Now, you might be saying ‘Hang on, judgment doesn’t sound like something to look forward to. I thought Advent was a time of joy and anticipation.’
Well, Advent is a time of joy and anticipation. But it begins, to paraphrase Joseph Conrad, by gazing ‘into the heart of darkness’ – looking at our world as it truly is. This is why an authentically Christian Advent is a million miles away from the popular sentimentalism of modern Christmas with its soft-focus images of baby Jesus and his young mother, surrounded by cute animals.
Sentimentalism pretends all is right with the world. Advent tells the truth.
As we’re well aware, darkness is all around us. Destructive forces far bigger than us, do their worst. This year will be forever marked by the Coronavirus pandemic that has claimed millions of lives and cost millions more their livelihoods. Multiple wars continue to rage around the world, proponents often armed by Western nations like the USA, the UK, Germany and others. In Yemen over 24 million people are in dire need of aid, 3.6 million have fled their home and c. 200,000 killed. In Syria over 13 million people are in need of humanitarian aid, 6.7 million have been displaced and over 350,000 killed. These are just two conflicts of hundreds of smaller ones around the world. As 2020 comes to a close, globally there are 80 million people forcibly displaced people as a result of persecution, violence, human rights violations and war. Such people are extremely vulnerable to further injustices, Covid-19 and other diseases. Environmentally, wildlife globally has declined by over two-thirds since 1970. This catastrophic loss continues downward with implications for all life on earth. Global warming is already here – unprecedented fires in Australia, the Amazon and California show that the earth is literally burning.
And then there is the darkness in our own neighbourhoods and lives. Many of us will grieve the loss of family and friends this Christmas. Death is still an enemy. As we look back over 2020, we know that we have often chosen to go with darkness rather than light.
But Advent is not only about naming the darkness – that would indeed be hopeless. It looks forward to the good news of God’s judgment.
If you’re wondering how judgment can be good news, perhaps it’s because when we hear the word ‘judgment’ we tend to think of words like ‘condemnation’ and ‘judgmental’.
But there is no condemnation for those in Christ (Rom. 8:1). Jesus’ future arrival as judge is best understood as ‘putting all things right’. It will be when all the powers of sin, evil and injustice that so disfigure God’s beloved world will be vanquished once and for all. Light will drive out the darkness. Creation itself will be remade. Death will be undone. Resurrection life will burst forth. Love will rule. God will be ‘all in all’ (1 Cor. 15:28)
And so, this Advent, as we wait in the darkness, let’s pray in hope with the Apostle Paul: ‘Marana tha. Come O Lord!’ (1 Cor. 16:22).