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In a very deep way, the entire Christian life in this world is lived in Advent, between the first and second comings of the Lord, in the midst of the tension between things the way they are and things the way they ought to be.Fleming Rutledge, from “Advent Begins in the Dark,” in The Bible and the New York Times
One of my favorite comedians at the moment is Ronny Chieng. Chieng is Malaysian-born, but grew up in Singapore and New Hampshire, went on to attend university and start his stand-up career in Australia. For the last several years has served as a “correspondent” on the Comedy Central news-satire fixture The Daily Show. He often weaves moments of fascinating cultural insight into his material — and I laughed my way into one of those moments recently while watching one of his Netflix standup specials.
During a bit about American excess and how it’s perceived by those from other cultures, Chieng began to riff on Amazon’s “Prime” delivery service: “[We get] Amazon Prime delivery every day. . .No item too trivial, no quantity too small to be hand-delivered into your home like you’re an emperor!”
He continued, with a sarcastic smile: “We need Prime harder, faster, stronger — Prime NOW! . . .In America, there should be zero lag between when I press ‘buy’ and the item is gently placed into my hands. ‘Same Day Delivery’?! That’s un-American! Give me Prime NOW!”
I laughed hard at this, but realized as I did that Chieng’s comedic needling was holding a mirror up to my very modern, Western impatience and acquisitiveness.
And in a story to file under “life imitating art imitating life,” I read just a bit ago that Amazon expects by 2024 to roll out “Prime Air” — a new drone-delivery service. This new drone technology is being developed with the goal of delivering customers’ purchases to their homes within 30 minutes of being ordered.
Ironically, as I read this story in which Amazon promises a future full of consumer drone strikes to deliver me pens, dog food, gadgetry and more at a moments’ notice, the Church is on the threshold of beginning a season of quiet anticipation — holy waiting.
Waiting for the Peaceable Kingdom
I think Advent is a gift to our atrophied capacity to wait. This season of the Christian year in which we strain toward the promise of Christ’s return to heal his creation, gather his people, and make all things new wakes us up — and, it slows us down. It weans us from our shallow impatience. And it deepens us to long for the Kingdom.
Edward Hicks knew a little about waiting for a tantalizingly beautiful, never-quite-arriving future. Hicks was a 19th-century Philadelphia Quaker and an American folk painter. In 1820, he painted his now-famous Peaceable Kingdom, picturing in oil on canvas the stunning visions of Isaiah 2 and 11– the texts of God’s promised future to which Church will attend in worship and preaching over the next few weeks.
Leopards lie next to sheep, lions next to oxen, with a little child among them. In the background of the painting, Quakers are engaged in fruitful dialogue with Native Americans.
Hicks lived through several decades of violence and injustice in the “New World,” and along the way painted The Peaceable Kingdom sixty more times. But in his later years, he started painting the predators in the scene more ferociously, with fangs bared, claws out. Hicks kept waiting for the peaceable kingdom to come, but knew in the meantime that he endured in a fangs-bared, claws-out kind of world.
Two centuries later, ours is still very much a fangs-bared, claws-out world- a world of tears, anguish, and woe. So I need the practice of Advent to stubbornly rouse me from my impatience and shallow, comfortable distraction. To train me in the discipline of holy not-doing, not-acquiring. And to teach me to ache patiently for that Day when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11.9)