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Advent Reflections

November 28, 2017 | by pac-admin

Rev. Hayden A. ButlerEnglish Department Chair, Director of The Prefect Board

Living in Time

It’s difficult to imagine life without time. Go ahead: try it—we’ve got time. Did you try it? I’m willing to bet that every attempt you just made to think about being outside of time had something to do with time, didn’t it? Was it something like a day that didn’t end? Or perhaps it was the same day over and over again? Our ideas about timelessness lean on timely things in order to make sense. At the same time, we realize that we’re not entirely in time, because we can think about the present, think back into the past, project into the future. We’re not bound by it. God made us to live in time but also to be free within it.

It seems to me that one of the only ways we know how to experience something like timelessness is to give time a pattern. Think about it this way: if we didn’t have numbers for years and names for months and days so as to organize them, would we have the same sense of things like age or experience? Patterns help us to get our heads around how things are connected and how we’re moving through time. In a way, they give meaning to time. That’s why it’s so important for us to pause and ask ourselves this question: what pattern is giving meaning to my time?

This brings us to holidays. The word holiday is a newer form of the phrase “holy day,” a day that has been set apart. Christian holidays are days that have been set apart to remember and to participate in the essential moments of Christian life. As birthdays and anniversaries are to our family lives, so the holy days are to Christian people. Christian holidays and seasons around them are a way to follow Jesus with our time. When we frame our lives after the life of Jesus, we can experience Jesus in all moments.

Advent Time

Advent is written into the Gospels. Specifically, the ancient Scripture meditations of the Church during this time direct our focus to four episodes from the Gospels. Week one of Advent reveals Jesus entering the Temple of Jerusalem to restore it as a place of prayer (Matthew 21). Week two asserts the fading glory of the world and the permanence of God’s Word (Luke 21). Week three centers on John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus in prison for righteousness’ sake (Matthew 11). Week four gives us John again, this time with eyes set on the approaching Jesus, declaring Him the One who takes away the sins of the world (John 1).

Advent is a season that looks backward to look forward. We are invited to prepare for Christmas as the commemoration of the coming of Christ as our Savior. So too we anticipate the Second Coming when Christ comes as our Judge and King. As a mentor of mine once put it: the first coming of Christ is the assurance of the second. We live in a time fixed between them, looking to Jesus as Savior, Judge, and King. Because of this, Advent carries with it both a comfort and a demand—we receive the consolation of God’s salvation and we receive the admonition to be ready to meet Jesus when He comes.

Advent is a season of reflection and anticipation. We are invited to examine our lives through the lens of growth in the saving work that God is performing in us. All Christian searches for self-knowledge ultimately reveal our very great need for grace; we are not enough of ourselves to help ourselves. Left to our own planning, we do often take sufficient time to realize our own poverty of soul. Advent is a gift of time and space to conduct a thorough search of conscience, to confess and repent, and to enter into a place of humility that eagerly anticipates receiving Christ anew in the celebration of Christmas.

Living in Advent

Living well in Advent is a life of experiencing fullness through fasting so as to feast well at Christmas. If you’d like to join in the Advent festivities, I’d invite you to consider some of the disciplines that our brethren across the centuries have commended to us.

Share in daily meditations on Scripture with friends and family. If you’d like a guide, check out this book by Tom Wright, one of my favorite Biblical scholars. He’s put together daily readings and thoughtful questions that are thematically paired to Advent. There’s a lot there to think about and discuss together.

Dedicate a brief time at least once a day to be still and pray. Ask for help in those aspects of your life in which you need God’s help and give thanks for what is going well and for those parts of your life where you have known the goodwill of God. Examine your conscience for areas where you are experiencing guilt or shame and ask God to forgive you and to help you grow in holiness. The answer to such a prayer is always a resounding yes.

Participate in some form of fasting with that same community. Typically, a fast means a reduction and/or a simplification of food. Fasting can sometimes mean reducing portion sizes if health allows for it, but can always mean reigning in the luxury of our diet—things like sweets. Additionally, fasting can pertain to media we consume: entertainment and social media. We spend a lot of inessential time with this—one might consider it a type of gluttony. Consider cutting out social media; maybe limit Netflix viewing to just one episode; cut out music or talk radio on part of the daily commute. Fasting restores us to the freedom to say no, and this is healthy for the soul and essential to our full enjoyment of good things, our wholehearted yes.

Through fasting we free up time and space in our lives. Through Scripture we fill our passing time and space with the everlasting Word of God. Through prayer we commune with God as a people formed by His salvation, making requests known and offering thanksgiving with hope and humility. Remember, spiritual disciplines are always ordered to stretch the soul, not crush it. Don’t feel like you have to be a heavyweight right away–pick some small things that you’ll actually do. Disciplines invite us to a course of training in the Spirit that enhances our capacities to love God and our neighbors. Nor should we be legalists about these matters, because Christmas will come not as a reward for our diligence but as a free gift to be received with gratitude. Advent orders our lives to need and to seek and to find Jesus, first in the celebration at Christmas and then when we meet Him at His coming on the last day.

Happy Advent to all and come, Lord Jesus.