Pastor’s Column: A Counter-Cultural Invitation to Wait and Hope this Advent Season

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For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Romans 8:24-25

Waiting is our destiny as creatures who cannot by themselves
bring about what they hope for.
We wait in the darkness for a flame we cannot light.
We wait in fear for a happy ending we cannot write.
We wait for a not yet that feels like a not ever.
Waiting is the hardest work of hope.
Lewis Smedes

This year, more than other years in recent past, I recognize my profound need for this season in the life of the church we call Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Amidst all the demands and stresses that come with what many now call “The Holidays”, intentional spiritual practices in Advent continuously draw us back to this very strange, yet miraculous way God has chosen to save the world.

[pullquote style=”left” quote=”dark”]intentional spiritual practices in Advent continuously draw us back…[/pullquote] The practice of Advent within the Church goes all the way back to around the 6th century, when Christians recognized the days leading up to Christmas as a time to focus on Christ’s Second Coming. Over the centuries, Christians around the world have integrated a kind of bi-focal vision into the journey of Advent, looking back at the miracle of Jesus’ birth (his first Advent) and looking forward to the promise of Jesus Christ’s return (his second Advent).

adventWhen I take the time to look back, I am reminded that the reality of this broken world is nothing new and it certainly does not have the final word. “The Word Became Flesh and dwelt among us” or from the words of my favorite Eugene Peterson paraphrase: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14) so that we can go forward in peace, hope, joy and love.  The season of Advent is this rather counter-cultural invitation to wait, not as those who have no hope, but in fact, to courageously choose hope over fear and despair—regardless of the state of our world, because Emmanuel, God with us, has come and is coming again!

Each year within our church community we provide resources to encourage our congregation to enter into this intentional act of expectant waiting. [pullquote style=”left” quote=”dark”]courageously choose hope over fear and despair..[/pullquote] We offer Advent devotionals for individuals and families to use as part of their daily reading of Scripture and praying. Some years we host at the start of Advent an inter-generational gathering where folks of all ages can make wreathes that include candles to light, one for each week of Advent, that represent the peace, hope, joy and love of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Eve we light the Christ Candle, at the center of the wreath, because Jesus Christ is light of the world!

It has become an annual tradition for our church community to gather on a Sunday afternoon or early evening during Advent, break into smaller groups and sing Christmas carols throughout our neighborhood and to our homebound. [pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]this beautiful chaotic picture of what it means to be the body of Christ…[/pullquote] Most of the time we are graciously welcomed but there are always stories of those homes where it’s obvious the people are present but choose to keep their doors closed. Perhaps it offers us a mere glimpse of what it must have felt like for Mary and Joseph to find no open doors at their time of great need.

The groups all gather at my family’s home, about four blocks from our church where we eat hot delicious homemade chili graciously prepared by one of our church leaders. I love welcoming our church family into our home that’s filled with nativity scenes from around the world testifying to the truth that Jesus came for us all. Our Christmas tree is brightly lit and covered with ornaments reflecting my Scandinavian heritage. And on this caroling day, as our house is full to overflowing with children, youth and adults of every age, I’m always struck by this beautiful chaotic picture of what it means to be the body of Christ, diverse yet one in common faith and hope.

anne-viningRev. Anne Vining is the senior pastor at First Covenant Church of St. Paul, in East St. Paul, where she has served for the past 14 years.