... an opportunity to shop with a vengeance but without the guilt? Spending money we don’t have – and pay it off for another ten years? Giving in, and fulfilling the kids’ demands to receive the same iPhone as their friends at school?
What are we supposed to be waiting for?
At the Easter dawn mass the priest chants in a haunting tune ‘Christ is our light’, announcing the final return of longer days and shorter nights after the dismal days of winter and the desolation of desert experience during lent. In those forty days we prepare and join in with the suffering and disappearance of Christ, as well as his rising to a new and different life.
In a way Advent is a similar exercise to Lent in waiting and preparing for Christ. However, an important difference is that before Mary became pregnant with Jesus by the Holy Spirit Jesus was not in existence in the world of humanity. So we wait for God to become a human baby, born to parents who were neither rich nor powerful. He literally became one of us in body, mind, and spirit. At the same time he still was not quite the same. He was also God in body, mind, and spirit (I am not going into this today! That’s for the New Year).
Having never had the pleasure of becoming a parent myself I used to be very emotional and left out when it came to Advent and Christmas. That is until in more recent years I discovered that – like Mary – I could be pregnant with God. So I immersed myself in the Christmas story and wore the persona of Mary like a cloak. Then Christmas became really, really exciting. I didn’t care for cards and presents at all. The only thing I was interested in was that the empty crib now was filled. I also realized that the Christ-Child could come in the form of other people, the ones who proclaimed the message as well as those I encountered in my life. And I had the task, like Mary, to care for them.
One problem remained in childhood as today, and probably in every pregnancy too; after about two weeks (or six months, or two thousand years) of waiting, an ugly question raised its head: Will Christmas ever come?
Is this just a child’s question in the middle of December or does it have more substance than that? When I was little I always wondered ‘When is the Christ-Child going to come?’ For the twenty-three days before Christmas Eve I worked really, really hard at being good. I always thought that Christmas would come faster if I was more obedient, better at school, or tidier.
By the time I was a teenager, in confirmation class, I was even more restless and went further in my desires. I really wanted the Final Coming of Christ to happen right now and right here for the world to become a better place. Then, as an adult, I gave up the waiting (and, alas, the faith too).Sadly I didn’t know then that there is a process involved for humanity, including the People of God, before we are ready to receive him. Just imagine for a moment: What would it be like if he really would come back in the next hour or so? Would we recognize him? What if he came and visited our church and looked, and smelled, like a drunken tramp? What if he came shouting his head off with aggressive revolutionary slogans? What if he came back as a woman? Could we still look at him/her and recognise this person as the Holy One of God in spite of not conforming to our expectations of what Christ should be like when s/he returns? What DO we think s/he should be like?
Historically after Jesus was taken up into heaven all the disciples and their followers expected him to return during their lifetime. But as time wore on seemingly the urgency decreased as nothing of the sort happened, and followers were imprisoned, executed or persecuted. Maybe this is the point, though, where Christians would have been longing even more for the suffering to end and the reign of Christ to begin. It is interesting to note that in all the countries where public expressions of Christendom have been denied faith – and underground house churches – have grown and flourished. In China the house church movement has swept the country, and there are possibly more people calling themselves Christians than in many European countries. In Russia, during the winter of Communist rule, people hid their icons under the floorboards or dug them into the earth in secret places. And then the ‘Spring’ came, icons resurfaced, the Russian Empire fell apart, and people are free again (well, more or less) to believe what they want.
So I would like to ask: does the event have to be in the future? I mentioned before that there is a time of preparation involved before Christ comes back. Maybe we could all use this time, become actors and learn to behave as if the kingdom were already here. It is said that if you act long enough as if something is true it will become so. So let us all act as if Jesus has already returned, and maybe – just maybe – he will find us all ready for his actual Comeback.
Picture: The Journey, Peter Clare, 1986