Until last year, I hardly knew anything about Advent. Some Christians, depending on their denominational backgrounds, grow up with more awareness of the liturgical seasons. While this was not something that I grew up with, in the past couple of years I have come to apprectiate, first, Lent, and now Advent.
My mom and I have been reading a collection of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings called God Is In the Manger. Put together specifically for Advent, and in the style of a devotional, the title of the first reading describes Advent well: "The Advent Season Is a Season of Waiting." Beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas, it ends on Christmas day, and as Christmas celebrates Jesus' birth, Advent acknowledges the time when humanity waited for a Savior. One thing I became very interested by, something those who have celebrated Advent every year may know very well, is that Advent is also about waiting for the second coming of Christ. As Bonhoeffer wrote in that first reading mentioned before, "The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth."
As I thought more about this double waiting of Advent,I thought about how we're in a similar position as the Jewish people were when they were waiting for a Messiah. They weren't quite sure what to expect, but the prophets gave them clues. If you're familiar with Handel's Messiah, you might know the song, "For unto us a son is born," its lyrics a direct quotation of one of those clues, Isaiah 9:3:
For unto us a Child is born
Unto us a Son is given
And the government
Shall be upon His shoulder
And his name shall be called
The Mighty God
The Everlasting Father
The Prince of Peace.
I'm sure the Jewish people didn't think the establishment of the Messiah's kingdom would be such a process. We know that many expected a political leader, someone who would free the Jewish people from Roman rule. Many expected someone who looked more like what they thought a king should look like. Instead He came in great humility, born in a manger to poor parents; the King who didn't care about overthrowing the flesh and blood kingdoms of this earth, who had a greater purpose in mind. As we wait for Jesus' second coming, we also have clues, but I wonder if we will be just as taken off guard as we were when he came the first time.
I don't know if this happens to every Christian, but I'm sure I'm not alone in being struck at times by the absurdity of what I believe. A while ago, for a couple of days, I was thinking about how, as a Christian, I'm supposed to believe in the second coming of Christ. During this period, though, I was more aware of how this would seem to someone outside of my perspective, and from those outsider pair of eyes, it looked crazy. Somehow the mysteries of old, namely, the resurrection, seemed more acceptable because the New Testament is full of people who testified to, made sense of and believed in the resurrection. I know that this doesn't really make sense. If I can believe in one, I should be able to believe in the other. The resurrection of the Son of God is itself a radical belief (I'm aware that to someone who doesn't share my Christian beliefs, it may all sound absurd). Yet it seems that while it's somewhat acceptable in our culture to say you believe that Jesus died for your sins, say that he's coming back and you'll be looked at like you're Harold Camping (and if your don't remember or know who that is, a quick Google search can fix that).
With all this in mind, I take comfort in Advent. I like to think that there were times when the Jewish people felt a little crazy as they continued to wait for a Messiah to come. Some, very admirably, continued to hope for events to pass that they would never see happen in their lifetime. The Jewish people waited hundreds of years for God to deliever them from Egypt. Finally Moses came. They waited even longer for the arrival of a Messiah. Finally Jesus was born.
To go back once again to that reading from God Is In the Manger, says Bonhoeffer, "It's still not Christmas, but it's also not the great last Advent, the last coming of Christ. Through all the Advents of our life that we celebrate runs the longing for the last Advent, when the word will be: "See, I am making all things new" (Rev. 21:5). We wait for Jesus to come back and make all things new. Finally, He will come.