I have been remiss in not addressing one of my favorite seasons of the Christian year - Advent. Similar to Lent in that it is a season of preparation for an important feast day, it not only chronicles the events as the Holy Family and its extended members prepare for the birth of their child; it also addresses the larger framework of how we prepare ourselves for God doing something new. For this reason, a traditional series of texts for Advent is Isaiah 40-55. Written as the people were released from their captivity in Babylon, there is such inexpressible joy behind the various expressions of joy that, as familiar as I am with these chapters, I am always moved by the singular thought - "We are free; what we have longed for has arrived." Unlike, say Zechariah (the father of John the Baptizer), there is no questioning of God's proclamation of something new and wonderful occurring. There is just the opposite. An effusive praise for God delivering the chosen people . . . back home.
As Americans, our understanding of exile is fairly non-existent. At most, we might have a nostalgic longing for the home of our childhood. If roots run deeper, there might be some serious jonesing for a return to the place of one's birth. This hardly compares with the ongoing desire to return to the Land Promised by the LORD to those chosen by God. To really get a sense of this longing, of what the exile in Babylon meant, before one reads those sixteen chapters in Isaiah, one should read, closely and carefully, the book of Lamentations. I have rarely read a poem that so clearly captures the sense, not just of loss, but of shattering than is contained within that long poem. It makes the declaration of God's continued presence even as the people's entire world crumbled around them all that more poignant, and the realization that arrives in Isaiah 40 so much more powerful.
Our preparation for the arrival of Jesus, for the coming of God's presence in our world and in our lives has a three-fold content. We are to remember, certainly. We are also to prepare ourselves for the arrival of Christmas as reality here and now. We are also, however, to be comforted as we anticipate the final consummation of God's act toward us, the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The Church exists at the nexus of all these converging points, wherein God takes our sense of time and redefines it, and by so doing, takes us out of whatever concerns we may have, no matter how real or legitimate they may be, and reminds us that we are always to take comfort.
In this time when the days are ever-shortening; in this time when there is trepidation across the land and around the world; in this time when officials mocked a call to hope and all that is contained in that little word we are reminded in this season to remember that God is indeed doing something new, has done something new, will do something new. We are to take comfort that God's promises are not empty, our hope is not void of any reference. Advent calls us to be comforted because even now God is changing everything, even time itself, preparing to do something new. Offering us a more abundant life, for others certainly, but most especially for the God who delivers us from our exile in despair and hopelessness.