Saturday, November 28, 2009

Advent's Yearning for the Coming One

Advent is a season that gets lost in the broader season called Christmas. While tomorrow we will begin our Advent journey towards Christmas, the "Christmas season" began the day after Halloween, if not before. It's hard to sing Advent hymns, which tend to be penitential, when all around us the songs of Christmas are sounding forth.

Advent though is important, even if it tends to get lost in the rush. I know that some would like Advent to be a buffer against the commercial side of the season, but I'm not sure it is strong enough to do so, in large part because we Christians don't have the discipline to postpone our gratification. We want what we're yearning for to be with us now, not later.

But, since the word advent comes from the Latin word that speaks of "coming," it is appropriate for us to consider the message of the season, to hear the call to prepare ourselves to receive the one whom God is sending.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan speak of the season in this way:

Advent as a reliving in the present of ancient Israel's hope and yearning is expressed in an an Advent hymn more than a thousand years old. It's first verse is very familiar:

O come, O Come Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here,

until the Son of God appear.

The language is evocative and powerful. We are Israel -- in exile, captive, mourning, lonely, longing. Israel's longing is an epiphany of human longing.

The seventh verse explicitly universalizes the yearning: it is the desire of nations:

O come Desire of nations, bind

in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid though our sad divisions cease,

and be thyself our King of Peace.

At the end of each verse of this long hymn, a joyful chorus confidently proclaims its fulfillment: "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel." Longing and rejoicing meet.

Past, present, and future are brought together in Advent. It is a season of expectant anticipation, of anticipatory joy. It is also a season of repentant preparation for a future that is yet to come.
(Borg and Crossan, The First Christmas, Harper One, 2007, pp. 231-232).

How shall we prepare for that future that has yet to come?

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