Advent Reflections--How and When God Saves

The big idea that my rector has been pushing this Advent season is the idea that Advent is about three different concepts at the same time--the waiting for Jesus in Bethlehem in the 1st Century, the waiting for Jesus to come to us now, in our own individual lives and circumstances, and the waiting for Jesus to come at the end of time.  We tend to focus entirely on the first part, and neglect the second and third.  The problem with focusing on the first part is that it makes Advent, and by extension Christmas, something that exists only in the past--an event that happened and did whatever it will do, now is over, leaving us only to remember it.

But Advent doesn't just speak to the past, but also the present and the future.  When we look back to see the children of Israel at the eve of the coming of Jesus, we are also seeing ourselves in our situation reflected in their faces.  First century Jews cried out to God for salvation--salvation from their own individual and collective errors and evils, salvation from forces beyond their control and seemingly of overwhelming power, salvation from a world that seemed to be careening off of a cliff.  Are we any different?  Especially now, in a year that has seemed so dark and chaotic, with little respite apparent on the horizon.

In this year in particular, I have been struck by how similar our situation is to that of the people we read about during Advent.  We, too, are calling out for God to save us--from ourselves, from other people, from the world, from everything.  In a way, Advent is a perfect example of the idea that Christianity exists at the intersection of "already here" and "not yet"--the fact that in one sense the Kingdom of God is already here doesn't mean that we can't or shouldn't call out for it to fully arrive.  We cheapen and diminish the sense of longing that many are experiencing by relegating all of this to historical analysis.

So, that's one take-away I've had from this Advent.  The second one is related to the first, and it has to do with how this salvation comes.  In a big-picture sense, the story of Christmas is the story of salvation coming in a manner and in a form that was not what people expected, and more to the point not what people wanted.  First century Jews cried out to God for liberation from all of myriad political and social forces that were oppressing them.  What they got a was baby in a dirty stall, one that grew into a man that told them that the dream of a restoration of the Kingdom of David was folly that would lead them to destruction.  It wasn't what they were expecting, and it wasn't what they wanted.  And so, as described in the New Testament, they complained and resisted and in many cases rejected the salvation they were being offered.

That, too, shows how similar we are to our First century Jewish ancestors.  We want God to come and fix things, but we want God to come and fix things in the way that we want them to be fixed, according to our schedule and our framework.  Christmas is God's way of firmly, but gently, informing us that life doesn't work that way.  Salvation will come, but we are going to have to put aside our pre-conceived expectations of how and when it will come.  We need to be willing to follow the star that we see, and not wait for one that will be more convenient or more in keeping with our pre-written script that lays out how all of this is going to work.

Sitting in a dark church this Saturday evening, I realized that a big part of me was mad at God, and that I had been mad at God for a while.  I was mad because God had not come down and fixed everything that I wanted fixed about my life, and the world, and the Catholic Church, and a host of other topics.  But it wasn't so much that God had not fixed these problems, or that God was absent, but the fact that God had not acted in the way I wanted God to act.  I was mad that things were not happening in a way that was most consistent with my own preferences for how I would like things to be fixed.

But, that's not part of the deal.  I have never been promised that God will act on my schedule and on my terms, only that God will save in the end.  Failure to act on my schedule is not the same as failing to act.  Sometimes we get what we need in an unfamiliar, or uncomfortable, or inconvenient package or presentation.  Sometimes the star takes us to a dirty stable in a small town in an unfamiliar land.  That's just the way it is.

I need, and still need, a gentle but firm slap upside the head to get me to get over myself.  God will come to God's people, both then and now, to save them.  God always has, and God always does.  It just might not come how and when they, or we, would like.  

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