Advent makes the rather shocking announcement that, this year, things will be different. That somehow, some way, before Christmas arrives, we will be ready for what Immanuel is going to do, to be with us. This of course is not how we schedule it. We would just prefer for Jesus to come to us while we repeat what we did last year. That is why we decorate, to make room in our homes for him to come. That is why we wrap presents, to give gifts to him when he comes. That is why we sing, so that when Jesus shows up again, he will appreciate our music. Hardly.
Unfortunately, the calendar, seasons, and annual celebrations more often than not inoculate our senses. Between the bowl games, Christmas letters, final exams, and travel, we assumed we could go through all this along with everything else and be ready for the divine presents to be left on December 25th. But that's now how Christmas works, and that's why we need Advent.
Advent is a liminal season, a thin place between the time when we say "Jesus has come," and "Jesus will come again." Most of our carols, traditions, and celebrations reinforce the assumption that if we wait and urge "Emmanuel to Come," He will just break through what we normally do this time of year. But prophets, Mary, Joseph, and Magi, saw things differently and responded differently. Instead of sitting back, they moved.
It seems like it was just yesterday, nine months ago really, that there was a rather shocking announcement to a girl barely old enough to date let alone be married. She was having a baby. Her husband had doubts. But all of this sort of fit the way things worked in his family-- surprise announcements to women and men who least expected to be instruments of God's grace. In case that was not surprising enough, their preachers missed the prediction. Magicians followed a rising star to be some of the first to find the King. Mary and Joseph relocated, some babies died. As Matthew remembered it, the whole episode gave "new beginnings" a whole new meaning for families and changed the "powers that be" in another political family.
We don't need Advent to tell us that something is not right with the world. We have the endless cycle of breaking news to do that. We don't need Advent to give us a countdown clock to Christmas. Your local retailer knew that right after Halloween. We do need Advent so we will come differently, as the Magi did, "to bow down and worship him." We need this month so that we will relocate our lives as Mary and Joseph did as willing instruments to the divine summons of grace.
The good news for us is that we get a do-over. We get another chance to come before God arrives, as Albert Delp suggests, to put things back where God placed them. To help us, we have a few voices and some music. Isaiah invites us to check our weapons at security, leave behind the bags we never needed in the first place, and move toward the mountain of Zion. On just an ordinary day of work, John the Baptist challenges the "powers that be" as well as the people whom we empowered to come down to the river. The children dancing in the marketplace invite us to let go of ourselves and spontaneously burst with joy, frivolity, and dancing. The magi tell us that even the stars can lead you home if you know Whom you're looking for.
Before you untangle another light, pose for another Christmas picture, purchase another fruitcake, or send another card, watch the prophets, angels, Magi, and a rising star. This time, Come.