Even outside the church, I think people know what it means to live with Advent hope. Advent means expectant waiting. It means anticipating and preparing for the arrival of the good news. It means taking the long view instead of just living in the moment. We do a lot of these activities by choice, some by nature and others by necessity. But we rarely name them as activities of our faith, as the work of Advent. When it comes to Advent we normally say we’re not good at waiting or that we are an impatient people. One of my jobs as a preacher is to help people connect their faith with what they are already experiencing. Around me, Advent activities abound:
- A woman in my community has recently been diagnosed with a form of leukemia. Her diagnosis came quickly and treatment had to begin right away. She is fighting the good fight, as so many cancer patients do. But I see, in her actions, Advent preparation. She is believing that the light will shine and grow week by week, even when the darkness seems to be closing in. Her processing of her diagnosis has been focused in and with her community. She is sharing with them what she needs and how people can be helpful. The community is responding with prayers, with love, with compassion. She doesn’t know what the next moment will bring, but she knows there is more to come. She might call it the universe, instead of God, but she trusts that there is goodness breaking in. And that there is a future promise awaiting her.
- In the wake of what was an unexpected election result for some, I see a renewed dedication to expectant waiting. Though these folks wanted a different outcome, they understand the reality of living with leaders with whom they disagree. And so, they are waiting, but not passively. They are reading books about race or the privilege of being white. They are giving money to organizations that support refugees and protect LGBT families. They are speaking up in new and different ways about their faith and the way it calls them to live. These folks are waiting for a different day, but they are doing so actively and with hope. They are anticipating and ushering in the presence of God, as it has been revealed to them and as best they understand it.
- My church, where I serve as interim pastor, is in a season of waiting. But as interims are quick to remind their congregations, the time between installed pastors is not a time of standing still. There are members still to be cared for, children still to be nurtured and God still to be praised. In my congregation, we are working on building relationships where some barriers had been put up. We are reflecting on the church’s life together and beginning to discern God’s call to them for the future. We are listening and wondering and waiting. We do all of that expecting to see the love of God grow among us and the guidance of the Spirit come into sharper focus.
All of these are Advent activities. All of them are focused on waiting with expectation and hope. All of them are focused on making preparations with trust and faith. In the church, Advent will end with the birth of Christ – the very presence of God among us – with an eye toward the Kingdom that Christ is ushering in. Each of these situations will find a different ending. But the people in each one may very well experience the real presence of God with them, too. Their expectant waiting and hopeful preparations open them to the mysterious presence of the divine all around us.
EMMA NICKEL serves as interim pastor at Beulah Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She is passionate about congregational ministry, trying new recipes and keeping her baby’s naps on schedule. She lives in Louisville with her husband, Matt, and their young daughter.