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Today’s guest post comes from Rev. Dr. Chad Pierce. Chad is a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the RCA, and currently serves as a religion professor at Central College in Pella, Iowa.
Advent is one of my most and least favorite times of the year. I love this season for everything that it is supposed to be…reflection, preparation, waiting. I dislike the season for what it often ends up being…hectic, hurried, and seemingly over before its time. Every year I tell myself “this is going to be the year that I slow down and really prepare my heart for Christmas.” Every year I fail to live up to that promise.
Advent and Christmas often evoke images of perfection. We see happy families, people shopping, large meals, and even brothers and sisters getting along. At times our families mirror these pictures. At other times, they don’t. These idealistic pictures often extend to the church. We envision full pews, full plates, and full Spirits. We hope for congregations to “get it.” Sometimes they do. At other times they don’t.
I’m in an “at other times they don’t” kind of advent, especially in the church. Instead of listening to angelic choirs, children’s programs, and messages about the present and coming kingdom, I spent the day presiding over a special classis meeting to close one of our churches. How in the world does this anticipate the coming King? What kind of King does this even anticipate?
During this advent, some of my questions, my misconceptions, have at least begun to be answered. I had been longing for peaceful, joyful, hopeful, and lovely circumstances. But that’s not what advent is about, at least not yet.
Isaiah 40 begins with the prophet consoling Israel to a place of comfort, encouraging his readers to speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Most people currently understand this part of Isaiah to have been written while Israel was enslaved in Babylon. God was not only promising Israel future relief from their situation, rather God was assuring Israel that God was still there with them in their present reality.
500 years later the complete fulfillment of Isaiah’s promises came in the person of Jesus. Here too Immanuel did not come with a change in circumstance. This kingdom of God came into a world in which Imperial Rome seemingly held complete control. The fulfillment of advent was not the retreat of Rome but the coming of Christ, even into an occupied world.
This advent I find joy, hope, love, and peace in knowing that the same God who held Israel in the palm of God’s hand in the midst of slavery, the same God who entered into a small nation controlled by world powers, this God continues to show up in unexpected and even dark places . This week God came to a meeting in which a church was being closed. Through tears, anger, questions, handshakes, and hugs, Isaiah’s message of comfort could still be heard. Christ’s presence could still be felt.
This advent I will continue to pray for things to be “on earth as they are in heaven.” However, for now it’s enough to know that on the mountain tops and in the valleys, Christ has come, Christ is here, and Christ will come again.