Growing up, I remember Advent candles. Honestly, that’s about all I remember. I can’t remember learning what the Advent candles meant. I remember Christmas countdowns, but I probably would not have called them Advent calendars.
Does Advent matter?
While each time I receive the Eucharist through intinction it’s meaningful for me, I cannot instantly make it meaningful for you. While the Christian calendar has done so much to inform the way I understand God’s story and mine, I cannot make it impact your life simply by introducing it. So part of me is hesitant because I don’t want to become a stickler for why we do what we do. I’m afraid we have used the word “intentional” so much it has lost its meaning.
I am convinced that Advent matters because it shapes and forms us. (I’m also convinced that celebrating the Eucharist and the whole Christian calendar shapes and forms us, but this is the first Sunday of Advent, so one battle at a time.)
The word advent means “coming.” We are living between two advents—Christ’s first arrival as a baby and Christ’s second coming. This is the season to remember how we first met God as Immanuel, God with us. It is a season to prepare our hearts expectantly for Christ’s return. We are eagerly anticipating the time when God will establish his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
If our only idea of Advent is that it’s just a countdown to Christmas, we are doing something wrong. That’s why preaching Advent matters.
And, honestly, Advent isn’t always easy, but maybe that’s exactly why we need it.
Advent is a paradox. Preachers stand behind pulpits preaching messages of joy and hope. We preach messages of lions who will lie down with lambs and how victory is defined as self-sacrifice. We pronounce promises to the poor as we center our worship on peace and love.
Commercials and store windows tell us preparation for Christmas is finding the perfect gift. Maybe if we turn up the Christmas music we will forget all the consumer guilt we rack up. Fortunately, Advent reminds us to live into a counter-narrative.
Even as I’m eager to order coffee from Starbucks so I can instagram my red cup, I want to pull away from the consumerism tug. I want to feel the joy, but then I turn on the news and see wars and sickness. There’s brokenness and anger even next door, even in my own heart.
Yet tomorrow I’ll stand behind the pulpit and preach about this other reality. The one of transforming hope. The one of a Kingdom that has come in Christ. The one where darkness is overcome by light and death is not the end.
Preaching Advent matters because each week we draw closer to the truth that Christmas means more than gift wrap and apple cider. We preach that something is coming, something that will change us. As we prepare for that coming, we are slowly changed. We are expectant. We are hopeful.
We preach of a peaceful world where we are whole, but it’s not a world we have fully experienced. Not yet. We are still waiting.
“There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel like Advent. Advent gives us another option beyond false Christmas cheer or Scrooge. Advent says the baby is coming, but he isn’t here yet, that hope is on its way, but the yearning is still very real. Sometimes, depending on what we’ve lost this year, Advent saves us from giving up on Christmas and all its buoyant twinkling-light hope forever. Advent allows us to tell the truth about what we’re grieving, without giving up on the gorgeous and extravagant promise of Christmas, the baby on his way.” – Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet
That’s why when we preach Advent, we cannot forget it’s a time of waiting. We need to talk about the darkness. Christmas is coming, but that does not mean things are instantly made right. Advent allows us an opportunity to speak into the reality of brokenness in our world. We need to make space for them. If we don’t, people will feel isolated. Advent gives us space for honesty.
Sometimes in Advent we are sitting in the waiting. Even still, God has already come and is with us.
Preaching Advent matters because preachers need to be the voices in the wilderness crying out. We need to be the ones preparing the way for the Lord.
I need Advent to reorient myself to what matters. Preaching Advent matters because we need to reorient ourselves as a community. Even though we may be sitting in darkness together, we are pointing to the light that is coming and to heaven breaking through.