The Christian liturgical calendar is organized around two major pillars of sacred time - from Advent to Pentecost, and then from Pentecost to Advent. And so the Christian liturgical year officially begins on this Sunday today, December 3, 2017, the first Sunday of Advent.
As our churches intentionally reenter the Advent spiritual discipline of commemorating God’s coming into history in the person of Jesus through the first four Sundays of December, we not only submit to a ritual re-enactment of the crescendo of joyful and hopeful anticipation leading up to the birth of Jesus, but - more importantly - we renew our spiritual journeys with the core message of the gospel - that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.” God’s self-emptying, the humbling of the divine self in the grand mystery of the Incarnation, is the bedrock of our faith.
The entire Bible, from beginning to end, testifies that God’s saving will for the world emanates from God’s love, agape. And this loving intent reaches its decisive manifestation in God coming to us in the person of Jesus. God’s love animates all of scripture - from out of the shadow of the arrogance and the lust for power of the Tower of Babel and the darkness of pagan religion, God calls a nondescript villager named Abraham to give birth to a people of faith; a people from whom Moses was raised and called to free a slave people; and now to God coming fully to be like us in Jesus, in the “Word becoming flesh”, who announced in Luke 4 that his primary mission is to “to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”
This central theme of our faith, God in divine humility choosing to “be like us” out of suffering love, is best expressed in the Song of Mary in Luke 1: 46-55, known in our Christian literature as the Magnificat, so named from the first words of the Latin translation: Magnificat anima mea Dominum,“ My soul magnifies the Lord”, a prophetic hymn of praise to God for his visitation and fulfillment of his promise of covenant kindness, now manifested through his ultimate chosen path of incarnational presence. God’s promise of companionship is now sealed in flesh and blood presence! And so Advent is not only about waiting (which could be a passive act), but about expecting (which is animating anticipation of certitude over what already has been accomplished).
So God’s loving redemptive will for the world comes to us through his desired flesh and blood presence in the person of Jesus, born of a lowly handmaiden, whose birth is first announced not to royalty dwelling in gilded palaces, but to lowly shepherds “abiding in the fields.” In humanity’s sin and fallenness we see that violence in all its forms has entered the world - hate, idolatry, greed and avarice, corruption, the oppression of the weak and the powerless. It is here that God’s love entered the world in its fullness in Jesus, and continues to be present in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God’s loving reign is already here, in our midst. God’s love is present everywhere, even in and through us.Violence and all its forms ultimately destroys itself, but God chooses to enter the world in agape love. The very nature of God’s love and presence always finds expression in the righting of what is wrong, in repairing what is broken in all of creation, in reconciling what has been cast adrift from human community. Justice is the face of love, and compassion its power. Holy work is hard work; and at times it leaves scars on the faithful, like stigmata resembling the wounds of the crucified Jesus. But it is to this ongoing task that God’s people is called. Love suffers because it cares; it grieves because it loves.
This is the great expectation of the certitude that we are celebrating this Advent season - that God’s love in Jesus is the hope of the world.