Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Today marks the beginning of a new (church) year. Today is the first Sabbath of Advent. For centuries the church has set aside the four Sabbaths or Sundays leading up to Christmas as the season of Advent. The word “advent” means coming or arrival. This is a season of anticipation, expectation and longing. The scripture the church reads during this season is typically drawn from the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zephaniah and Malachi. These prophets speak of the coming of the messiah—the one who would save Israel from her enemies and renew the kingdom of their ancestor David.

Advent culminates with the arrival of Jesus as a baby, born to a unwed teenage peasant named Mary and her fiance (gasp!) Joseph. These are also dangerous stories. They upset the status quo, not only of mainstream Jewish expectation, but also the imperial expectations of Caesar and Herod.

Advent is bi-focal. It looks back in order to look ahead. Like all of the other important Hebrew narratives, the story line is basically this: what God has done in the past, he will do again, with an unexpected twist. As God delivered the enslaved Hebrews from Egyptian slavery, so he would deliver the exiles from Babylonian captivity. And as he delivered both of those previous generations, so, they believed, God would deliver them from the menacing occupation of the Romans.

As Christians we see this history reaching its zenith in Jesus, born in Bethlehem. And from that point in history we declare that as God came to the rescue of God’s people during the Roman occupation of the first century, in Jesus, so God will again come to our rescue at the end of days, to establish the kingdom once and for all.

Advent is a time of looking back and looking ahead. It is a time of longing and expectation in which we borrow the hopes of the prophets to fuel our hope that God is on the move, coming to God’s people, with healing and deliverance. Join me in turning your attention to these hopes and expectations during the next four weeks. Perhaps an emphasis on ultimate things will help you turn down the volume on the noise of consumerism that dominates our culture at this time of year.

—RYAN