The advent season has officially begun. Advent, in Latin, means coming, and at Christmas time we celebrate the reality that we live in the space between the first and second advent. We celebrate the coming of the divine to earth in the birth of Jesus, and we look forward with anticipation for the coming day when all things will be made new.
The advent season is a place of tension. It is a liminal space. Our hearts are lifted with joy at the remembrance of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, and yet they groan with the weight of suffering and pain that continues in our world today.
It is in this place of tension that the true depth and reality of our hope are seen and felt. Christ comes not with sentimental assurances and easy answers. He comes with the kind of love that seeks after the broken hearted, that extends grace to one’s enemies, that endures hardship and enters into the sufferings of others.
This kind of love requires a gaze that is fixed ahead of itself. Dallas Willard defines hope as the joyous anticipation of the good. This is how Christ endured the cross…it was the joy set before him. The joy of a world set right and intimacy with mankind restored. This reality is what allows us to enter in to the brokenness and mess of our world without avoiding the pain. Our hope is fixed on what lies beyond. The difficulties, in light of eternity, become light and momentary.
Our hope is fixed on the second advent. As C.S. Lewis writes,
“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.”
To live in this middle place, between advents, is to experience the kingdom of heaven on earth. It isn’t simply remembering, nor anticipating, but being caught up in this moment of God with us. Jesus continues to enter in to our broken hearts, and through the joy of that reality, extend hope to a world that is in such need.
As Meister Eckart wrote,
“What good is it that Christ was born 2,000 years ago if he is not born now in your heart?”
” Lord, we do far too much celebrating your actual coming. I believe in God, but do I believe in God-in-me? I believe in God in heaven, but do I believe in God-on-earth? I believe in God out there, but do I believe in God-with-us?”
“Lord, be born in my heart. Come alive in me this Christmas! Amen.”