MINISTERIAL MUSINGS: "On Advent"
The hustle and bustle is here. It isn’t even Thanksgiving as I write this, and yet our commercialized culture tells us it is the season of Christmas. The funny thing is that the “Christmas season” does not really begin until December 25 and remains with us all the way to Epiphany (January 6). Yes, that Yuletide song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has liturgical significance, although I have no desire to receive a partridge in a pear tree, three French hens, or seven swans a swimming. (Lots of birds in that piece!)
The season that is immediately upon us is Advent. Although we think of this as the period in which we prepare for Christ’s birth, theologically it is about preparing for Christ’s return at the end of history. Just look at the Scripture passages for this season. Dr. Laurence Hull Stookey tells us, “Advent is first of all about the end of time. Because the term itself means ‘coming’ or ‘arrival,’ and because it precedes Christmas, many have misunderstood Advent to be exclusively a time to get ready to celebrate the coming of a child in Bethlehem. In fact, the primary focus of Advent is on what is popularly called ‘the second coming,’” (Stookey 1996: 121).
Most mainline Christians do not talk about “the second coming.” Either we do not believe in it, or we reject the horrific images associated with it (as seen in the Book of Revelation), or we feel it is too evangelical for our blood. There is no escaping the fact that it is the classical liturgical theme for Advent, though.
When I think of “the end times,” I think in metaphorical terms. If the kingdom of God is among us, as Jesus taught, then maybe the end times are too. What does that mean? It means that we are to work together and with God to make God’s realm of hope, peace, joy, and love (the traditional marks of Advent) a reality now, rather than simply praying that it will come to fruition when Christ comes again.
How do we make God’s realm a reality? Jesus told us in the parable of the sheep and the goats. When Christ returns, we will be judged based on whether or not we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. Read Matthew 25:31-46 and see for yourself. It is what I like to call an apocalyptic-ethical vision.
Use this season to prepare, my friends. Worship God with your hands, not just your words. Only then will God’s kingdom come to earth as it is in heaven.
John Tamilio III (JT3), the religion columnist for The Lakewood Observer, is the Senior Pastor of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ (UCC) in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland. A musician and a nationally published poet and scholar, John resides in Lakewood with his wife, Susan, and their three children.