Of course, there are those who do fervently hope and long for that moment when God might rend the heavens and come down, do awesome deeds and kindle fire upon the earth. There are those who, based on the calculations of the ancient Mayans earnestly believe that will happen within this year, at the conclusion of 2012. But, from time immemorial humans have predicted the ending of all things such as we have known them. For is it not human nature that when we are confronted with the reality that things change, we long for, hunger for, we desire the immutable. And, yet there is only one thing that is immutable. Certainly we may have noticed that it was not the 1928 Prayer Book, or the 1940 Hymnal. The only immutable thing is God.
Change is always perceived as loss. To most of us, that was made clear in the changing of the prayer books and the hymnal. But, actually it is one of the celebrated themes of scripture.
For example, Psalm 102 has these words:
25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.
When we deal with the literature of Advent, we tend to see it as referring to an unsteady and frightening future. And, we ask ourselves questions, the sort of questions that provoke anxiety. We know that as a human race, we’ve tended to be naughty, not nice. So, there’s not a shadow of a doubt that we deserve the judgment, the chastening hand of God upon us. For, are not all our deeds, even our righteous ones like a filthy cloth? We cannot help but wonder: Are we living in those last days? What if these are the end times?
So it never occurs to us to see the ways in which the kingdom of God is already here and in our midst.
We plaintively sing, “Come O Come Emmanuel,” but how quickly we forget that Emmanuel has come and dwelt in our midst. In ten dollar words, we have become so caught up in the anxiety of eschatology, that we have failed to realize how we also live in realized eschatology.
God has already torn open the heavens and come down, and done such a thing so wondrous that the mountains quaked at his presence. We call that the doctrine of the incarnation, Christmas. For do we not prepare ourselves to celebrate again how the love of God was shown to this world in this season known as Advent?
Do we not celebrate how God has indeed kindled a fire upon the earth as when a fire kindles brushwood and causes water to boil to make His name known to his adversaries? And do we not call that event Pentecost, the day of the outpouring of the very spirit of God upon all flesh?
Do we not have before us the outstanding track record of the way in which God has acted in ways that we did not expect, but reveals himself to those who wait for him?
Do you remember how hard it was, when you were but a child to wait for Christmas? At a certain point, in my home we used a rather thin advent wreath and an advent calendar. Every day we would open the calendar and read a verse that had to do with waiting and expectation. And did not the time seem to drag on interminably slowly like molasses in winter? Every day before Christmas seemed like a year.
It may be that for us this year, the message of Advent that we need to hear is not about anger and cataclysm, or the ending of all things. For the lesson that we really need to learn is about having patience. For waiting upon God requires that commodity which few, if any of us have—a patient heart, a patient spirit.