While it feels that we have slogged through 2020, a year of unimaginable suffering, disconcerting disruption, disappointment, fear and fatigue, in some ways it is hard to believe that Advent is already upon us.
In the church year, Advent is the time when we wait and prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus at Christmas and for His promised return when He will establish God’s kingdom of peace and justice on earth.
Peace and justice sound good, but more waiting, really? We have spent the whole year waiting: Waiting for COVID-19 test results, waiting to get out of quarantine, waiting for the curve to flatten, and now waiting again as cases surge and hospitals are overwhelmed.
We waited for businesses, schools, community gathering spots and churches to re-open. And while some doors have cracked open with protocols in place, we are still waiting for how it used to be; to be able to greet our neighbor with a handshake or a hug, to gather with friends and family without fear, to stand shoulder to shoulder in our favorite pew and sing with gusto.
But still, we wait for a vaccine as we have from the beginning of the pandemic. As we wait, we wear masks and practice safe distancing for ourselves and our neighbors, but in general, it is a passive waiting.
The waiting of Advent is active; it is a waiting with anticipation that invites our intentional preparation. It is a waiting while knowing what is coming, when, as Eugene H. Peterson paraphrases John 1:14 in “The Message,” “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” It’s a time to remember that, in Jesus, we most fully see God, whose love and grace knows no bounds; that we, that all God’s children, might receive and return His love.
Advent is a time of active waiting because we prepare our hearts to welcome Jesus anew by examining our hearts to see how distant we’ve grown from God, taking stock of how we have failed to live by God’s priorities.
Whether you are part of a church, searching for another, left it behind or have never been, if you celebrate Christmas, consider this: While you are waiting, you might consider Jesus, what He said, how He lived, how He loved and how living like Him, with Him, might change your life and be a part of the peace and justice God is bringing even now. (By the way, I know of some churches that would welcome you in that journey!)
Despite what you might have heard, God is less concerned with what we believe than who we are and what we do, loving God and loving neighbor as self – love as action, not feeling. Think how the world would be different if we loved like that even a fraction of the time.
Sometimes our preparations, despite our best intentions, are focused more on parties and presents and gatherings. But since there will be less of each, perhaps this year we can focus on preparing our hearts, opening our hearts to the love that has come and is coming again.
Since we’re all waiting, why not bring more meaning to your waiting?
Rev. Christine Herrin is the senior pastor at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church in Bluffton.