But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. - 2 Peter 3:8-10
Advent is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ. - Thomas MertonSo it begins. Our journey through the Christian calendar, with time now tuned to God's action for the creation so beloved God in Christ came down to live God's love with us and for us, begins not only the period where we wait for the birth of the Christ-child. We also are called to wait and watch because the work begun with Christ so long ago continues; the end of the story is yet to come, and each moment is full of the promise of God's recreation.
As we recall the birth of the promised Messiah, we also long for the final completion of God's Divine work in Christ through the Spirit. We look back, of course; what else is the time before Christmas but one long season of nostalgia? We share stories of Christmas's past, of get-togethers and presents and parties. We remember what it was to be a child on Christmas morning, the overflowing stockings, the presents stacked underneath the tree, sometimes spilling out in to the room. While nostalgia has been called the antithesis of real memory, it does serve us by reminding us that this is a time apart, a day removed from other days.
Yet, to be truly faithful, we should also hear the call to look ahead. We need to remember that God's promise made human in Christ is not yet complete. We are, all of us, a work in progress. Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for something to come, should not just be about parties and decorating and recalling years past; just as we look forward to the celebration of the birth of the Christ child, we should also be looking forward to that moment when Christ comes to call all creation by name, remaking what was in to what it all can be in and through the Spirit, in the name of the Son to the glory of the Father. No apocalyptic bloodlust, no chiliastic destruction of the sinful and godless, the promised return of Christ is nothing more or less than the promise to complete what has already begun in and through Christ for all creation: to make of it what God has always intended, to live and be for the Glory of God.
To be honest, however, we should not ignore than this is not some sweet feeling of peace; Scripture is filled with the words of Jesus promising a refining by fire. To rid our lives, to rid all creation, of the sin that keeps us from full participation in the life of God in Christ through the Spirit is a painful process of death. We die to our own needs and wants. We die to the siren song of the delights of the flesh. We die to the seductive whispers of the promise of power and all the glories that can come through it. We are called even to sever those ties most dear to us: our families and friends, our spouses and children. These, like all the rest, are temptations, empty promises of security in a world filled with unrest. Let me be clear: the family, like the state, like work, like friendship, even the comforts of routine, can be a trap, a way to rest in peace as the world around us burns. When God in Christ calls us, we are called to leave behind even those most dear to us. As the world is made new around us, as we hear Christ beckoning us to join in the work of bringing that new creation more fully to life, every thing in our lives is the price we must pay. The pain we endure when we answer with joy the call of Christ in our lives can be devastating.
This First Sunday of Advent, as we begin, again, to wait and watch, to hear the words of St. Peter in Scripture reminding us that God is patient yet persistent, we should also hear the words of St. Peter that say all things shall pass away. All things. God in Christ is calling us even now to live this out, and the price we pay, our own lives, is far higher than we can imagine. As Thomas Merton reminds us, Advent is a call to begin ridding ourselves of those parts of us that have not yet been brought under the reign of Christ in our lives. The world remade, the new creation, the promise of fellowship, these are possible in the New Heaven and New Earth that God in Christ through the Spirit is, even now, preparing for all that is. It is, alas, not yet. Hearing the Advent words "wait" and "watch" are not only liturgical calls to prayer; they are calls to renew our vigilant work, bringing the Kingdom of God here and now, thinning the wall between our sinful time and God's promised New Creation. This call demands we set all to one side.
Are we ready?