This week marks the beginning of Advent, the four weeks of the Christian calendar that precede Christmas Day. Advent, which is derivative of the Latin word for “coming,” not only points to the coming of the holiday, it serves as a metonym, or symbol, of our contemporary longing for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.
In other words, the hope of Advent, God’s promise that he is with us, is not just about the Christmas story, but it is also for our families, our vocations, our mental health, our financial needs, and every other reality that we experience now.
For some, the anticipation of Christmas is ritualized through Advent traditions. Christmas trees, Advent calendars, and special meals give life to spirit of anticipation which builds meaning whether they are rooted in religious practice or not.
But the hope of Advent is also much larger than our own localized longings and the Christian tradition of Advent expands our imagination of what we hope and long for.
The Gospel of Luke begins its Christmas story by setting the social and political context of the original Advent: “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” By setting the first Christmas within the context of the Roman Empire, the Gospel writer tells us that the hope of Jesus’ birth somehow answered the longings of a community living under the rule of empire.
In that way, Advent was primarily related to a community’s freedom and wholeness. And it was from the thriving of the community that individuals would experience the reality of the Advent promise.
This week as I sat around our living room with men and women from our church Group what we were hoping for this Advent, I was filled with both expectation and faith as each person bravely shared the battles they were fighting. And yet, we were also challenged to lean into the implications of Advent in a world that, in many ways, closely mirrors the social and political context of the first Advent.
If the first Advent had implications for how it would confront, upend, and redefine the empire of that day, then surely Advent may challenge the empires of ours—white supremacy, patriarchy, economic inequity, and more.
The gift of faith is that it rightly connects us to the greater community and traditions like Advent serve as a staircase to connect our stories to the story of the world in all of our/its worry, wonder, celebration, horror, beauty, and mess.
And in such a reality we work, and we rest, and we hope.