- Troy Hatfield
This is a season of strong opinions – when is it too early to put up Christmas lights or for radio stations to begin playing non-stop Christmas music? Is before Thanksgiving too soon to go chop down a tree or start wrapping presents?
Regardless of one’s opinions, the season of Advent begins soon - Sunday December 2. My role at the church requires me to begin thinking about this season long before it’s even on the radar of the big box stores. It’s a strange thing to be kicking around Advent themes in August or to be meditating about the birth narratives just as the leaves are starting to change colors. I’ve been surprised by how meaningful one specific phrase, typically “reserved” for the Advent season, has been for me the past couple months.
“Come Lord Jesus, come!” is a common and fairly ancient Advent refrain. In my conversations with people, there are two consistent thoughts about that simple phrase. It is seen and understood as a yearning expressed throughout the Old Testament, fulfilled by the birth and life of Jesus. It is also thought of as a longing for an eventual second and final “coming” of Jesus to make all things right. Grossly overstated, the phrase points to a past or future event.
While I don’t disagree with these orientations, I am convinced this refrain is more than a nostalgic catch-phrase or a maybe-one-day hope.
A little (and far from exhaustive) history lesson might be helpful. While historians aren’t entirely sure about the origins of the season of Advent, the prevailing take is that Advent has its origins as a pre-baptismal fasting period. People interested in joining the church, through baptism on Epiphany Sunday (January 6), entered a period of self-denial and teaching to prepare themselves for this serious step of commitment. Eventually, baptisms almost universally moved to Easter Sunday and the season of Lent became that pre-baptismal period. Advent eventually became “attached” to Christmas with a focus more on the birth of Jesus.
Why is that important? When Advent functioned as a pre-baptismal season, the focus was around the life of Jesus as an example for the way we should live our everyday lives – it had direct implications for our daily behaviors and activities.
Separated from baptism, Advent has slowly “devolved” into a period of either nostalgic remembrance or future longing – both fine ways of orienting ourselves, but a little detached from the everyday realities of life.
What would it mean for us to approach Advent – and particularly this phrase “Come Lord Jesus, come!” – in the hopes of recapturing the everyday connection of the season? One of my main Advent practices this year will be to practice praying “Come Lord Jesus, come!” as a present moment petition.
Come Lord Jesus, come!
Be present in the ways I spend money – in the interactions I have with my boss – in my secret thoughts and habits.
Be born again in my marriage – in my relationship with my parents and siblings – in the way I think about and act towards the poor in my community.
Be with the nations as they think about conflict resolutions – with our educational systems and local governments and decision-makers.
Come now when I am feeling impatient – when I am feeling lonely – when I am feeling numb – when I am convinced there is no way you will come, now or ever again.
Is it possible that Advent has more than a past or future orientation? What if we also allowed Advent to call us back to asking – and looking – for God’s breaking into our current situations and realities?
During this Advent season, I pray that we will all experience Emmanuel, God-with-us, right now, right here. And that we will be comforted by the words of Fredrick Buechner: “whatever else is withheld, the Shepherd never withholds himself, and he is what we want more than anything else.”
Troy is Lead Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, where he’s been on staff since 2004. A musician, Anglophile, voracious reader and owner of more black clothing than anyone he knows, Troy has also recently married Lis, a violinist and lover of every member of the animal kingdom. Follow Troy on twitter @tr0yisbald.