Advent is for the impatient. I want an Advent for the impatient, not the complacent.
These little phrases have been bouncing around the echo chamber of my mind of late. They are two strands of a similar yarn, one asking who is advent for? This age-old spiritual practice of structured, intentional waiting for an event that already happened and at the same time an event that has yet to happen but likely isn't going to happen anytime soon - who is this for?
For four weeks we wait for Christmas. Which is a celebration of an event that already happened. Herein is part of the Christian complexity, even absurdity. God came to the world's rescue in Jesus. Merry Christmas. God will come once again to the world's rescue when Jesus returns to bring justice. Merry Christmas. Some of us want this to happen very soon, but as it's been 2,000 years already, basic logic demands that this year likely isn't the one (as awful as it seems to have been), so we wait wait wait. Merry Christmas.
Christians are to be people who simultaneously long for the world to come under the rule of the self-sacrificial king Jesus. And they are to be the people who help bring this rule or "kingdom" of God about here and now. So Christians are to be Christmas, to be the community through whom God's presence is once again and continually made manifest in the world. We are to be the incarnation and resurrection of the life of Jesus. And we are also to be advent people, those who remember this personal manifestation is ever imperfect and incomplete and that the world does indeed need a truer embodiment of the God who is Love. We wait for the return of Christ. And this isn't a December thing. It's an every month, every day reality. We are to be little Christs (which is what Christian means) who practice Christmas living by daily giving up our power and control and wealth for the sake of our neighbors. And we are to be the people that have a grand enough vision and longing for the kingdom of God such that the sad present state of our neighbors causes great grief, impatience, and deep longing in us. In other words, Christmas is to be a celebration of what has slowly become our daily way of being and advent is to be an unnaturally intentional time to take on a posture that is completely natural to us.
In this sense, advent is for the impatient. Not the privileged whose impatience is a childish character flaw stemming from their never having had to practice waiting for much at all, who've never gone without or not gotten what they want. I mean the kind of impatience that exists when patience has run out, the kind of desperate emptiness after days and weeks and years of waiting. A weariness from waiting. A weariness that aches and burns because waiting isn't a spiritual discipline; it's just the only damn option. This is who I believe advent is for.
When the true Christmas happened and God showed up in the person of Jesus, Jesus was very clear with who this would benefit. In fact, his entire canon of teachings which Matthew captures in the so-called "Sermon on the Mount" begins with and is built upon Jesus' explanation of who Christmas is for:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
This synopsis of the whole point in Jesus' coming, dubbed The Beatitudes, should probably be the very first passage in any Intro to Christianity course. Sadly its instead often been twisted, misused and ignored in Evangelical America. But the point is answering the question, who is Christmas even for?
The desperate and despairing. The grieving. The powerless. Those weary of waiting for justice to prevail. The merciful. Those who have remained faithful and good despite having lost much hope. The peaceful and nonviolent. The victims.
Les miserables. The miserables, as Hugo summarized.
These are the people who Christmas is the best news for. These are the people who want God's world and God's harsh judgment on the present world order. These are the people whose lives are advent. So Christmas is for those living in advent.
Basically, I'm tired of the church using advent as an exercise in giving the complacent and content an experience of artificial discontent in order to enhance their experience of Christmas. There is a whole world of weary waiting people who are running on fumes with waiting for the light of Christmas to dawn. Advent should be primarily about bolstering, encouraging, supporting and uplifting these people. Advent should be for those who are actually living in advent. It should be for those running out of patience and should be an effort to bless them by renewing their hope, giving them more strength to wait, filling up their patience tank. It shouldn't be aimed at those who are impatient because they've always gotten whatever they want whenever they want it. Part of the the task of the church is indeed to help persuade the privileged and complacent minority of the global community to opt into self-sacrificial solidarity with the poor around them. I'm invested in that ministry with my whole life. But I'm so weary of that effort coming at the cost of, often entirely instead of, using the words and liturgies of the church to support those who actually sit in advent and long for Christmas by default. They are the people Jesus came primarily to bless. They should be who we primarily aim to bless as well. (Yes, God loves the entire world and Jesus served the entire world, but not everyone experienced his presence as immediate blessing. In fact most wanted him dead.)
I'm going to try focusing this advent, and in general, on those around me who are desperately longing for Christmas. Even those, and especially those, who don't know that's what they're hoping for. Who don't know the True Christmas to Come of ancient Christian hopes would be the best turn of events imaginable for them. Those who don't believe this to be true because "Christian America" around them has consistently disconnected Christmas and Christianity from the realities of poverty, corruption, violence, injustice, disempowerment, evil. Those people who life and those around them have forced to wait and especially those without much hope left to wait in. That's who I want to spend my life celebrating Christmas for and with. And doing that, changing my focus in the direction of the miserables, is actually how, I believe, we offer service to the complacent. The good news for them if the opportunity to live a beautiful life of self-sacrificial alignment with the poor, like Christ, with Christ.
Merry Christmas to all, indeed.