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 November 28.
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 Mark. Starting November 28 this year, the lessons will come mostly from the Gospel of Luke. That’s because our sponsoring Episcopal and Lutheran churches follow a lectionary, a three-year list of scripture lessons shared by many other churches—Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, American Baptist, United Church of Christ, etc. 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 celebration 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 long-promised universal community of peace and justice.
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 stand with the people Jeremiah addressed, a people living in exile, longing for a new day immeasurably better and more just than the the days of King David. 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—Christmas gets 12 days, like the song, while Easter gets 50). But all of these celebrations point to something immeasurably more than what’s already here, something we may never live to see, but for which we refuse to surrender hope.
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, where all live in safety.”
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 in our personal, social and political life, and, of course, learn how to wait, to wait with God’s persistent waiting. Advent is all about learning to wait persistently.