Advent Christians believe Christ came, but still we sing “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” We believe that in Christ the kingdom of God has dawned, but still we eagerly pray “Thy kingdom come” because we long for a world that is still to come. Exile, longing, watchfulness and waiting resonate with us.
I’ve lived a good life for more than 50 years, enjoying the blessings of family and friends, the beauties of the earth, the riches of art and music and our spiritual heritage. But at times I still ask, “Is that all there is?” “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy,” wrote author C.S. Lewis, “the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Our ultimate longing is really for God, for our true home. Advent Christians can’t rest content. We long to be what we are not yet. A critic of Christianity once said, “I would find it easier to believe in your Redeemer if his followers looked more redeemed.”
Our longing is that what is true for us by faith may become true in experience. We believe Jesus when he said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” But we often experience God’s seeming absence. And so in Advent and throughout the year, Advent Christians remain thirsty for God. We know our sins are forgiven, but we want more; we want to become holy.
We long, too, for our society to live up to God’s vision, for the kingdom to come in its fullness. The cry of Advent–“Wake up! Be alert! Watch for his coming”–startles me from spiritual drowsiness and apathy. But how do we stay alert when compassion fatigue, entertainments and busyness anesthetize us? We can practice some simple–but not easy–disciplines. We can fast from the media to become more alert to the still small voice of God.
Some people find that keeping a daily journal helps them to be aware of what is truly important. Some like to listen to that music, watch those movies, read those books that stab them awake rather than soothe them to sleep. Being awake allows them to pay attention to signs of God’s comings.
In Advent we are called to wait for the coming of God and God’s kingdom. Waiting is hard for us. As Advent Christians, God’s promises help sustain us in hope. We can accept the experience of exile and the existence of suffering in the world. We don’t have to pretend that this life is all there is. We can live with our longings; We don’t need to deny them. We can be aware of the reality all around us. We can sing of the reality to come. And we can practice waiting. Then we’re ready to celebrate Advent, now, before Christmas and throughout our life, until the fullness of time, offering always this Advent prayer: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”