“Advent is the season that can remind us God is working while we’re waiting and we’re really waiting with God.” ~ Louie Giglio
By Tim Sitterley, Regional Director, U.S. West
Not long after the grace awakening experienced by our denomination, the men of my congregation were invited to join a Four Square men’s ministry group for a three-day camping retreat. They were aware at some level of what we had experienced during our transformation, and I believed it would be a good experience to share quality time with members of the greater body of Christ. Throw in cooking over a fire and sleeping on the ground, and I was confident that any walls that existed between our two groups would quickly fall. Men are men, and I was not disappointed.
Camp was set, wood was cut and stacked, and folding chairs circled around the fire. It was time for dinner, and one of their leaders opened the evening with prayer. What he prayed for that evening was routine, expected and totally unremarkable … until his final comment. “And Lord, we pray for your second coming. May it be soon … even tonight. Amen.”
To this day I can still remember my reaction to that prayer. I spoke quietly with others from our group who had the same reaction. How absurd it was to pray for Jesus second coming “tonight.” Didn’t he realize there were prophecies to be fulfilled first? Things had to happen in the world. Governments had to align. At best, we could hope for the Lord’s return in seven years. But certainly not before then. Somebody needed to explain the tribulation to these people.
An Advent season does not pass for me where I don’t recall my dismissive response to that prayer of so many years ago. I can’t help but reflect on my own personal journey from a sense of dread of the second coming, to a growing excitement and expectation that is enhanced by the focus and ceremony of the season. Advent has become for me a time of now-but-not-yet. And understanding that can only come when one experiences their own personal Advent.
The word Advent comes from the Latin words ad ventus, which literally translates “come to.” Yes, there was a specific time when the Son of God put on flesh and came into our world. And yes, there will be a coming Day of the Lord when Jesus, that same Son of God, will return in glory. But for me, the candles and the devotionals of the Advent season speak to something much more personal. The “coming to” my life through my personal relationship with Jesus.
Pope John Paul II put it best:
To predispose our mind to welcome the Lord who, as we say in the Creed, one day will come to judge the living and the dead, we must learn to recognize him as present in the events of daily life. Therefore, Advent is, so to speak, an intense training that directs us decisively toward him who already came, who will come, and who comes continuously.
Christian writer and poet Michelle Blake wrestles with the paradox of the now-but-not-yet.
One of the essential paradoxes of Advent: that while we wait for God, we are with God all along, that while we need to be reassured of God’s arrival, or the arrival of our homecoming, we are already at home. While we wait, we have to trust, to have faith, but it is God’s grace that gives us that faith. As with all spiritual knowledge, two things are true, and equally true, at once. The mind can’t grasp paradox; it is the knowledge of the soul.
It’s that “knowledge of the soul” that fills me with such joy during the Advent season. If I am at peace, it is not because of the future coming of a conquering King, but the presence of the Prince of Peace in my life today. Anything I might know of true love comes only because of a present-tense relationship with the God John says is love (1 John 4:8).
Advent is a season of expectation. But not the expectation of some far-off event, but more like the expectation of a woman with child. It is the awareness of present life, and the knowledge that one day that life will burst forth. I believe this is what Paul is talking about when he writes in Romans 8:22 that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth.”
When we light the candles and rehearse the four weeks of the season, we not only celebrate the story of the nativity, we express our hope and longing for the fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity. And we do so in faith because of a present relationship with the one to come. As Louie Giglio puts it, “Advent is the season that can remind us God is working while we’re waiting and we’re really waiting with God.”
Many times since that long-ago men’s campout, I’ve uttered the words, “Lord may you come soon. Tonight would work for me.” I’ve prayed this in times of seeming hopelessness. In times of physical and mental exhaustion. In times of physical pain. The promises from the end of the book of Revelations are so appealing. No more tears. No more pain. No more death. All the various interpretations of end-time prophecy don’t concern me that much. For me, Jesus is more than welcome to come back anytime he chooses.
But the season of Advent is a reminder that Jesus is already ever-present in my life. He is my source of joy, peace, hope, and love. I can no longer speak of the first and second advents without also praising God for the personal advent I have experienced in Christ. That, as much as anything else, is what I’ll give thanks for this year while watching someone from the congregation come forward to light a candle. And when that white Christ candle is lit, I’ll bask in its light, confident that the true light John tells us entered the darkness of the world so long ago still shines brightly in my life, and the lives of those believers around me.
May you be reminded of your personal advent this coming season. And in the words of the apostle Paul, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope.” (Romans 15:13 NLT)