I have always found the timing of Advent confusing. I’m not referring to how shoppers and kids count down the days to Santa’s arrival, while the church calls it Advent, and not Christmas until December 25. I can live with that sort of confusion since as Christians we all live what one scholar calls hyphenated lives, living in the world of God’s doing and society’s too. I get that.
No, here’s my confusion. Every year in Advent (the word means coming) we anticipate the birth of Jesus. Wait, what? It’s hardly a news alert to recall that Jesus was born two thousand years ago. How can we be anticipating something in the past? The traditional readings for the four Sundays of Advent don’t make it any easier on us. One Sunday we read of how ancient Israel was awaiting the coming of God’s Messiah, another Sunday we read of how we are awaiting Jesus’ second coming, and all of this swirling around passages about his birth back in Bethlehem. It’s enough to make one’s head spin.
At the heart of the Jewish and Christian faiths there is a marked emphasis on telling time, and it’s always counter-cultural. The earliest story in Genesis describes each day as beginning at sundown, not sunrise. That’s different. And of course there’s the day of rest each Friday into Saturday called Sabbath. While the Christian calendar has morphed over the centuries, we still tell time differently than the culture at large. At a time when most folks are counting down the days until Christmas, followed by festive New Year’s Eve parties, we dare to say that the first Sunday of Advent is the first day of the new year.
Imagine that, the first day of the Christian year is a glorious mix of past, future, and of course, present. “Come, Lord Jesus” is our prayer, even if he already did, and comes again every day.
– Mike Graves