Charles Dickens: Last of the Great Men, by G.K. Chesterton
“In our prayers for you we always thank God (because) ... of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the Gospel that has come to you ...”
from Colossians 1, Paul the Apostle
Many church-going people will enter the sanctuaries where they worship this Sunday to a dramatic change in symbolic decor and colors, a visible reminder that the church’s historic calendar has started its New Year’s observance.
It has nothing to do with the festivity of Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 but is a fresh reminder that people who came to call themselves Christians about 2,000 years ago embraced a new understanding of hope’s origins and its human face.
In the western Christian tradition, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest Nov. 30, and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec. 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.
The purple colors and tints of Advent are also the color of suffering used during Lent and Holy Week, a direct link that looks backward in order to look forward.
Advent, which means coming, anticipates the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. The New Testament uses rich images and language to describe that Second Advent, a cause of unending debate within some elements in the church – and a source of profits for some clever speculators.
Advent, with its full history, is far more than simply marking a 2,000-year-old event. It is a recognition of the promise that all will be made new and reconciled to God.
In a double focus, Advent also symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and congregations as they affirm Christ. The church celebrates God breaking into history in the Incarnation, and anticipates a future consummation of that history for which “all creation is groaning awaiting its redemption.”
Apprehending Advent is more than making literal declarations about what’s shrouded in holy mystery and is understood perhaps best looking ahead as faithful metaphor.
Advent’s reality is experienced by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. The larger story is a continuum spread across Judeo-Christian history, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out for freedom, and carried today in the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice in the contemporary world and still are sustained by hope of deliverance.
It is that eternal hope, however faint at times, that God, however distant God sometimes seems, brings to the world the anticipation of a Redeemer who will reign with truth and justice and righteousness in creation.
The world still awaits peace and justice and righteousness in the actions of all people.