Each of the seasons of the Church year picks up on a certain mood: New Life for Easter, Doing Without for Lent, Joy for Christmas. I once heard someone say the season whose mood matches up best with the bulk of our days is Advent. Much of life, she observed, is spent waiting — and Advent is the time of hopeful waiting.
Advent is waiting for things to get better, but the Advent brand of anticipation has its own qualities.
1) A deep running conviction there’s something good ahead and it’s coming toward us.
2) A realization that in the meantime in some small ways it’s already here,
3) A recognition we are to work along with it to hasten its arrival.
The scenes, characters and colors of Advent carry just this note of expectancy.
There’s Isaiah’s ringing three-word promise, “On That Day,” which he illustrates with his portraits of The Peaceable Kingdom — wolves lying down with lambs, just judgments on the poor, and the earth filled with knowledge of the Lord. This promise, he insists, is not empty: “The Day” is on the way. John the Baptist continues the momentum with his startling announcement that God’s Kingdom is at hand, and that we can do things to position ourselves and our world to usher it in. But it’s Paul who adds practicality to this task when he touches on two helps for living in this anticipatory way.
First are the Scriptures. Among other things, they are a collection of encouragements — all these stories, sayings and wisdoms to cheer us on in this time between the promise and its fulfillment. Events like the against-all-odds rescue from slavery in Egypt, the unexpected appearance of saints and prophets, the unpredictable break-through of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. All these, Paul tells us, are meant to carry us through and draw us on.
Paul then sets out the quality of endurance. Simpler to talk about than to do, it’s that certain something enabling us to keep on keeping on through the strained times before the coming. The strength needed to carry on, he insists, arises from a deeper place than our own resources, coming as it does from “The God of endurance.” It’s God in Jesus walking with us on this road of expectancy, this way of the Promise. This is Paul’s Advent formula, opening to the encouragement from those who have gone before and leaning on an inner endurance whose roots reach down into the very life of God. Vincent’s repeated counsels to trust find echo here, “We have tried to follow Divine Providence in all things and to put our feet only in the place it has marked out for us.” (Letter to Bernard Codoing, CCD II,499)
The mood of Advent speaks to that lifeline of hope we need in everyday living, that confidence in an unseen future we trust is coming toward us.
Chapter 6 of the Letter to the Hebrews offers a vivid image for this state of anticipation. Someone is standing in front of a large curtain with an anchor in his hand. Without knowing what’s beyond the veil, he swings it and throws it through the curtain with the confidence there’s an anchoring place on the other side. Isn’t that our Advent stance – not knowing the future but standing there with hope in our hands and casting it forward by our efforts and our trust that God in Christ is moving toward us with the wonders of the Peaceable Kingdom. Come Lord Jesus.