Walking home today, it struck me that Advent is the most audacious season of the church year. Even Easter invites us to witness to a past event–one we strive to witness as present as well: the resurrection of Christ, and all it signifies both backwards and forwards in time. But in Advent, we remember the first coming of Christ in a manger in order to anticipate the second coming–one we envision as coming from the skies, or as breaking apart all injustice in our world. While there is a penitential, minor key, reflective spirit during Advent, the most striking feature of Advent may be our boldness in petitioning Christ to come again.
This is a rather dramatic request. And do we really want it, most days? It is much easier to stand beside nativity scenes and ponder the first coming of Christ into the world in the life of an infant. And perhaps that’s the larger treasure of Advent: a reminder that we really cannot dream big unless we are free to dream small. We do not want the arrival of eternity or the end of time if we cannot have also the vulnerable uniqueness of each creature who comes into this world, tiny and embodied and bound to die–only to live again, carried and restored in the life of Christ, who comes from eternity into our own earthly time.
Still, the urgency of Benedict’s call to listen and run towards Christ daily as if our lives depended on it–this urgency is in the spirit of a perpetual Advent, a perpetual turning towards an awareness of the coming, once and again, of what we, with Jews and Muslims, call “the Day.”
Perhaps we are sometimes shy to pray “Come, Emmanuel!” because we do not want to be associated with all those who seek to see the Anti-Christ of the Last Times present in the U.N., in Russia, in the election of Obama, in every new advent of war or cataclysm. The theologian Catherine Keller warns of the grave danger in apocalyptic thinking–of the way it generates dualistic divisions of “good” and “evil” that lead us to demonize others and views ourselves self-righteously, and to fan rather than resist human-made apocalypses.
But it may be that the best response to demonic forms of apocalyptic thinking is a willingness to practice another sort of orientation towards the draw of eternity towards time, a perpetual awareness that our finite lives are always just around the corner from the dawn of the fullness of time. Advent calls us to a grounded imagining, one stretching from the stars to a crib, from what comes beyond us to what we are called to nurture and protect in the days of our own lives.