Reflections on how Christians help each other to grow and mature in loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love their neighbor as themselves.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Advent is like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is the story of a man who lives his life backwards. He begins life in the body of an old man and dies in the body of a newborn infant. Its an amazing, well-crafted story that is well worth seeing.

I mention this film because it is a good way to understand the season of Advent that began this past Sunday. When we read the lectionary lessons for the four Sundays of Advent we see that they move backward through time. They begin with the adult Jesus, near the end of his earthly life, teaching about the coming end of time and the reign of righteousness and justice that characterize the reign of God he inaugurates with his life, death, and resurrection. By the fourth Sunday of Advent we encounter the unborn Jesus in Mary’s womb.

Advent begins the Christian calendar year by giving us a glimpse of God’s destination for history. This is done because we cannot really make sense of the story of Christmas unless we see where it is taking us. Advent is the season for hearing, reflecting, praying, and preparing for the coming again of Christ the crucified and risen King, Prophet, and Priest. Only when the church takes time to deal with God’s destination for history can we truly begin to understand the meaning of the incarnation we celebrate at Christmas.

Laurence Hull Stookey gives a wonderful explanation of the meaning of Advent in his book, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church:

“The First Sunday of Advent is regarded in the Western Church as the beginning of the liturgical year. But Advent is first of all about the end of time. Because the term itself means “coming” or “arrival,” and because it precedes Christmas, many have misunderstood Advent to be exclusively a time to get ready to celebrate the coming of a child at Bethlehem. In fact, the primary focus of Advent is on what is popularly called “the second coming.” Thus Advent concerns the future of the Risen One, who will judge wickedness and prevail over every evil. Advent is the celebration of the promise that Christ will bring an end to all that is contrary to the ways of God; the resurrection of Jesus is the first sign of this destruction of the powers of death, the inauguration and anticipation of what is yet to come in fullness. As such, the opening Sundays of Advent bring to sharp focus themes that in the lectionary system have been accumulating for some weeks; for as the lectionary year closes, the Gospel readings, in particular, deal with signs of the end.

“…the sacred story, to be understood aright, has to be read backward. Just as the birth and ministry of Jesus are incomprehensible until we know of the Lord’s death and resurrection, so too the whole of the past is muddled unless first we have a grasp on the nature of the future” (Laurence Hull Stookey, Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church, pages 121-122).

Embracing and living the season of Advent is a powerful way for the church to be a living witness to Jesus Christ who is the crucified and risen King, Prophet and Priest; the One who came as a helpless infant born to poor peasants of a conquered and oppressed people and the One who is coming as judge and ruler of God’s reign on earth as it is in heaven. Living Advent will help the church to be more than a mirror image of the culture of consumerism and self-indulgence in which it is called to witness and to serve. How can the church “transform the world” when it is, particularly during this season, a reflection of that world?


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