Advent is an odd time of year. It’s the waiting; it’s the hoping; it’s the preparing. It’s looking back at what’s been promised; it’s looking back at what we’ve done; it’s looking back to good news.
It’s the time that reminds us how important Hope is to our spiritual, mental and emotional well-being – and how damaging despair is. Hope gives us the motivation to continue breathing – sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps us breathing. Taking away another person’s hope – “that’s never going to happen” – is tantamount to consigning them to hell, for what is hell if not the tangible presence of despair and the utter absence of hope? (Refer: Anne – Episode 1 Season 3 Buffy the Vampire Slayer). When faced with the potential prospect of stealing the hope of another, Advent draws us into that space of waiting, hoping, preparing and holds it up as a mirror. I would hope that in the time of Advent folk would find the focus that would restore their hope, give them the empathy to restore the hope of others and Pray for Hope whan all they see is despair.
Imagine though, if Advent lasted more than 24 days. If the time of just waiting became longer and longer. If it was always winter and never Christmas, what state would your hopefulness be in then? If you lived in a time of waiting, of snow and cold and dark, and illness and your hope for a return to life is continually postponed, imagine what that would do to your soul. And you now see what a terrible Curse the White Witch laid upon Narnia in Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”. The Bible says, “Hope deferred makes a heart sick” – the inhabitants of Narnia knew that sickness – their hope was deferred for hundreds and hundreds of years. I too know that sickness, I have a hope that continually gets pushed back and back. What if it never comes? And there is the nub of many hours of a sick heart. But Aslan came; Spring came; Christmas came. And it’s the same in God’s story of his people – for hundreds of years they were in Egypt, hopeless, despairing – but He came and freed them. Hope returned, was fulfilled and the promise flourished. The cycle continued; Assyria, Babylon, Rome. Each time God comes through after years and the Hope for us is that we know promises get fulfilled, because they have been in the past. That’s why it’s so important to retell the stories of God’s people, to tell your own stories, because in the advent of our lives we need to be reminded of past success and fulfillment in order to understand the Hope of what is to come; the hope of God with us in a tiny package of humanity. And so Hope involves both looking forward to the time of joy, but also looking back to promises made, to good times that we hope can return.
The time between Times
It’s a time between times. Not yet Christmas, but also it’s not not Christmas. The Ancient Britons and the Celtic Peoples that joined then supplanted them held sacred the idea of “the time between times.” They are the times that are neither one thing or the othe; not day and not night. Times such as dawn and dusk, the turning of the year, the turning of the tide. The ancients saw these as sacred times, as times when the veil between this world and the Spiritual World was ‘thinner’. These were times when the most significant sacrifices could be made, when you could draw close to God. And it’s no coincidence that in reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus, it’s these ‘thin’ times that Jesus chooses most often to seek His Father God. And it’s not just times, the ancients also revered places that were “in-between”; Mountains (not fully land, not fully sky), Beaches, Islands- and so we see the sacred places of Britain, in all traditions are islands (Iona, Lindisfarne, Anglesey) – and these are the kinds of places Jesus too chose for his most important and intimate of spiritual encounters – He goes up to a mountain to meet with God and be transfigured, he waits on a beach to connect with those he loves and bestow Grace. And so we enter Advent, a time that is not quite Christmas, but neither is it “normal”. We’re already surrounded by preparations, decorations, complications and aspirations, but we’re still in the “not yet”. Advent is the ultimate ‘thin’ time of year, giving us chance to be still, to Pause, to look at what is to come and make ourselves ready for it, but also to look back at what we have done and see what has gone, what promises made, what hearts broken, what needs to be reconciled, redeemed, repaired – so we can then connect with God.
The Kingdom is coming
But it also reminds us that there is an aspect of our whole life where we are in an “in between state”. We are in the time after God’s son has visited this earth and proclaimed the Kingdom of God. And if we are to be his followers we must live as if the Kingdom is here right now, our hearts and actions must be bent in such a way as to bring the Hope and Justice of the Kingdom to this world in the here and now. And yet, the full fulfillment of God’s heavenly kingdom where there is no more pain, no more tears, no more separation, no more abandonment, no war, no injustice – and so much more – is not here yet. Our whole lives are a “not yet” when it comes to living as true disciples, as sons and daughters of the King and therein lies the source of much of the tension in our lives – that tension between the now and the not yet.
But the Kingdom is Coming. The Kingdom is here in those of us who follow Jesus and act as if it is here. Hold on to Hope my friends, restore the hope of someone you love, rest in the in between place and seek the face of God.