For the vast majority of the Christian world, these weeks before Christmas are called the 'Advent Season.' In fact, the church year begins with Advent, when we look forward to the coming of Jesus at Christmas, and to his second and final coming at the end of the age. Let me wish you all a happy and holy New Year!
In a real sense, all true Christians are 'Adventists', and in fact, I often call myself a 'Catholic Adventist', for it is an essential part of our faith that we 'wait' on the Lord in 'hope', and while we wait for Him to come, we pray and work to build His kingdom. Of course, we do this year-round, but in the season of Advent we give it special emphasis.
But some may ask: 'Why do you wait in Advent for the coming of Jesus at Christmas? Hasn't He already come?' The answer to this question goes to the very heart of Christian praxis, revealing important features inherited from Judaism which may be lost to newer churches.
In secular life, we commemorate all sorts of anniversaries on well-known dates: birthdays, weddings, and the like, so we might be excused for treating religious feasts such as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost in the same way; but we would be wrong. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, God enters the world He made and 'did' things for our benefit, and calls on humanity to 'remember' those things. Until today, our Jewish brethren 'remember' (zikkaron in Hebrew) the great things the Lord did for them in an annual cycle of feasts such as Passover and Yom Kippur, and as we live through this annual cycle, the year (time) is made holy.
But these are not just anniversaries, and debates about the actual date on which the first Christmas fell are profoundly irrelevant. In celebrating this annual cycle of feasts, somehow the participants are made present at those great God-events of the past, or if you prefer, those great God-events of the past are made present here and now (re-presented) in our time. It doesn't matter which way you look at it, for God himself is not bound by time and space, and a little of that character rubs off on us as we worship in time and space.
During the Christian year, as we remember (anamnesis in Greek) the events of Jesus' birth, baptism, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection, somehow we participate in those original events here and now. They have already happened and redemption for humanity has been won; but along with the 'already' is a 'not yet'. We still look forward with 'hope' toward a day when the final victory will be won, and that is what 'Advent Hope' is all about. In the same way that the God-Man Jesus after his Resurrection possessed a glorified body (better than the one he had before) - and still does - on that great day, the graves of the dead will be opened and the souls of the just will become in possession of glorified bodies (this is what the dogma of the 'Resurrection of the Body' means). This is where taking up our cross daily and following him, finally ends up. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, and God, the great environmentalist, will restore all his creation which he so dearly loves (for God so loved the world ...).
When we participate in this 'remember' type of worship, somehow we even take part in those mysteries which have 'not yet' taken place. This sort of worship is qualitatively different from the concerts and prayer meetings which take place on Sundays (and Saturdays) in many churches I know. Let us strive for higher things ...
This week, according to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we begin the annual cycle of 'remembering.' And that is why I wish you a happy New Year! In this Advent season we wait in hope, preparing the way for the coming of the Lord anew in our world and our lives. Maranatha!
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon.