As we come to the end of the second year of the pandemic, we find ourselves in another place of “2 steps forward, 1 step back”. It’s more clear to all of us now that we are living amidst a watershed moment in history. As my 78 year old neighbor remarked to me a few weeks ago “everything is different”.
A Time of Despair and Questions
I don’t know about you, but many times over the last two years I have found myself in a moment of despair. Sometimes it was a few minutes, sometimes a few hours, and on an occasion or two, a few days. The constant weight of pivots, adjustments, anticipations, and re-anticipations that this season has brought takes a toll on the mind and the soul. For those of us in ministry spaces where we can’t “pass the buck” to someone else, or abdicate responsibility up another level, the toll is even greater. I have no specific data on this, but my experience tells me that at least half of all ministry leaders who find themselves in this spot have contemplated a career change or long for an early retirement as a result of all the upheaval in 2020 and 2021.
Advent Themes Offer a Lift
As I’m walking through this Advent season, it’s not lost on me that the themes of hope, peace, joy, and love are exactly what we need to see us through these tumultuous times. I don’t know exactly when these four themes developed in church history, but the common chord that seems to bind them all together that to one degree or another, each is a choice. We can choose hope in the midst of adversity; we can choose peace when conflict seems encroaching; we can choose joy in the mundane; and we can choose love when “like” isn’t something we feel.
The Advent Wreath becomes an active reminder as we intentionally light each candle we are moved to greater light as we reflect on the promises of God found in Christ Jesus. Most Advent Wreaths have four candles placed on the circumference of the wreath with a white Christ Candle anchored in the middle. Could it be that these four Advent themes not only give us greater light but order our steps ultimately to Jesus? Yes, this is the Advent journey and design.
Common voices in Advent are; Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary. All of them in one way or another prepare the way for Jesus. They point to Christmas and the Incarnation which carries us through the life and ministry of Jesus, to his passion, cross, resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Advent intentionally brings us to a manger and does so on the wheels of hope, peace, joy and love. The traction of these four values prepare us to embrace more fully the Light of Christ where darkness is dispelled, shepherds stand in awe and angels sing. We are invited to gaze with wonder at our redemption drawing nigh and in doing so we are warmed and made new.
Ultimately, as a disciple of the Lord Jesus, inhabited by the Spirit, in the realm of the Kingdom of God, we have all the capacities within us and around us to choose to make the Advent journey. What we must bring into that dynamism is a resolve to orient, most particularly our will (often what the scriptures refer to as heart) and our mind toward making the choice of hope, peace, joy, and love. As people of the kingdom, we make these choices, not based on wishful thinking or positive psychology, but we make them based on a fixed point in history. We make them based on a time and space that begins with Advent and ends in Pentecost, with the reality of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ as the fulcrum upon which our choices rest. Just as surely as I can drive because I know there is a road, we can choose Advent because we know there is a resurrection. If the resurrection of the one whose birth we celebrate at the culmination of Advent is our orientation in life, then we will find ourselves naturally living into a future oriented by that same resurrection. I love this quote from priest pastor and poet John Donne…The Poet, Pastor and Priest John Donne wrote; The whole life of Christ was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha (where he was crucified) even in Bethlehem, where he was born; Click To Tweet
The whole life of Christ was a continual passion; others die martyrs, but Christ was born a martyr. He found a Golgotha (where he was crucified) even in Bethlehem, where he was born; for, to his tenderness then, the straws were almost as sharp as the thorns after; and the manger as uneasy at first, as his cross at last. His birth and his death were but one continual act, and his Christmas Day and his Good Friday are but the evening and morning of one and the same day. John Donne, Sermon Preached at St. Pauls upon Christmas Day. 1626.
As we enter the 3rd year of this challenging season, let’s choose Advent (and hope, peace, joy, and love) because we chose the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus was raised, we are too and even now amidst a pandemic changed world, resurrection is ours and Jesus’ resurrection begins with His Incarnation at Christmas. Despite whatever is still before us in the coming months and years, we can know that what is better is still ahead.
Working with church leaders to develop new expressions of Christian community is the passion of Chris’s life. In addition to his role as National Director of Fresh Expressions US, he serves with the Baptist General Association of Virginia the area of church planting and serves as the Director & Organizational Architect for Ecclesia, a national network of missional churches. Previously, he served as pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship, a large university congregation in Blacksburg, Virginia. Chris holds a D.Min. in Missional Church Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. He lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania with wife Rachel, daughter Elliana and son Jase. ￼