Our sponsoring Lutheran and Episcopal churches follow the traditional calendar of the church year. Unlike the calendar on your computer or mobile device, the church calendar begins with the first Sunday in Advent. This year, that’s December 1.
One thing you might notice on the first Sunday in Advent is a change in the Gospel lessons read most often during the year. This past year the lessons came mostly from the Gospel of Luke. Starting with Advent the lessons will come mostly from the Gospel of Matthew. That’s because our sponsoring churches follow the Revised Common Lectionary, a three-year list of scripture lessons shared by many churches. That’s just something worth noticing. The point is that a new cycle has begun, and that it begins with the season of Advent.
Advent is a season of waiting. As early as the year 480 it became common for Christians to spend an extended period of time waiting for the twelve-day feast of Christmas. It’s intended to remind us that, like our ancestors before the time of Jesus, we are still waiting for the arrival of God’s universal community of peace and justice that Isaiah so memorably envisioned.
Advent is a recognition that, although the church aims to be that universal community of peace and justice now, it has always done a very poor job of that. We are still waiting.
Yes, we certainly have much to celebrate in what’s already here. That’s what we do especially during the seasons of Christmas and Easter (which, incidentally, are never just one day in length). But all of these celebrations point to something immeasurably more than what’s already here. Nations “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
This is the season when we say to ourselves, “God’s world deserves more than what has happened in it so far. We yearn with God for a universal community, a community where none go hungry and where violence is a distant memory.”
We can’t force that vision of universal community on the world as it is, because to force it would be a denial of that very vision. All we can do is keep trying to live out the vision locally and, of course, learn how to wait, to wait with God’s persistent waiting. Advent is all about learning to wait persistently.