Thursday, November 28, 2013

‘Twas the Night Before Advent

Advent is a uniquely Christian season. The secular world does not observe it or even know it exists. This year it begins Sunday, December 1. For most people December is Christmas shopping season or holiday season, filled with Christmas themed events.

It is as if Christmas lasts from Black Friday to December 25, then abruptly stops as people spend a week recovering from Christmas and anticipating New Year celebrations.

In the Christian world Advent is a season all to itself. It has nothing to do with Santa, presents, or the baby Jesus. It is an eschatological season. It is a season of cosmic expectancy. It is a between time, like twilight or predawn.

The scripture texts read in worship during Advent deal with Old Testament promises of a future peaceable kingdom. The gospel lessons showcase John the Baptist and Jesus’ prophecies concerning the coming of the Son of Man.

The Son of Man is an apocalyptic figure mentioned by the prophet Daniel. It is also Jesus’ favorite term for himself. Christians normally equate Jesus’ prophecies concerning the Son of Man with the Second Coming of Christ.

It is all pretty mysterious stuff. That is why I like it. I love mystery. I am uncomfortable with certainty. Most people I have known who are certain about things – whether religion, politics, social causes, or moral issues – are scary. This is true whether they are fundamentalists or liberals.

People who are certain they are right no longer listen. They don’t have to. They already know the answers. I prefer knowing the questions. Advent is a season of questioning and wondering. Songs like “I Wonder as I Wander” and “I Cannot Tell” express the Advent spirit.

If Advent had a symbol, it would be a question mark. Advent is about the future and the future is always unknown. Even when we think we know what is going to happen tomorrow, it is never turns out the way we think it will.

That is life. That is death. That is afterlife. That is the coming of the Son of Man. That is the Second Coming of Christ. Jesus said it best in one of the classic Advent texts. “No one knows. Not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Advent is a season of mystery and awe. It is a season of wonder. And if some of that wonderment rubs off onto the Christmas season, so much the better.