We live in a culture that doesn’t like to wait. We are trained from very young to expect to get what we need and want very quickly. The technologies we have created also serve to reinforce this impatience. When we turn on a computer and it takes more then a minute to load, we feel like its taking an eternity. Progress in technology is basically measured in terms of how much less we have to wait for the thing to work compared to the older version. If it’s faster, it’s better, period! Because we don’t like to wait!
When we translate this impatience to our spiritual lives it can be problematic. The thing about God though, is that he’s not a high speed computer, he isn’t updated every 6 months, if you get tired of him you can’t trade him in for a new one. If he doesn’t suit your style you can’t switch brands. But people love to try to treat God like a fancy computer or a smart phone don’t we. And we get angry at God when we don’t get want we want in life when we want it. The point that I’m trying to make is that God by definition isn’t like any of the contingent, changeable things we can control in this world. St Thomas Aquinas described God as “ipsum esse subsistence”, or the shear act of to be itself. God isn’t an item in the world that we can grasp and control on our time. Rather God…is…period.
What does this have to do with advent? Well our culture loves to skip advent doesn’t it! We start Christmas right after Halloween. The shopping malls pull out all the Christmas decorations, and start selling Christmas stuff. Just like the advance of the computers and Smartphone’s, Christmas starts earlier and earlier, and progress is measured by how much less we have to wait. “Shop at our store”, the commercials say, “Christmas starts November 2nd….the other mall only starts Christmas November 9th”. They are telling us you can have Christmas now, when you want it.
What is advent telling us? The word advent means, “to come to, or coming to”. It’s telling us a very different and much more realist message. It’s telling us a sobering message that our post-modern culture doesn’t want to hear. It’s saying…. wait. It’s saying Christmas isn’t hear yet, but Christmas is coming on Gods time not ours. Unlike the gods of computers and smartphones and the gods of immediate gratification that we love to worship, the true God can’t be grasped at, can’t be controlled. All the good things God gives us in this world are a gift, not a pay check. We don’t earn it or deserve it, it’s offered to us by the God who does not need us, but chooses to love us anyways.
At Christmas we celebrate two things that defy cultural expectations. The first thing is, that the long awaited messiah of Israel, the one who will defeat the enemies of Israel, and make it the dominate society of the world, turns out to be a tiny helpless baby, born to a couple of nobodies, in the middle of know where. Very much not want the people of Israel were expecting, and probably not what they want to hear. How is this baby going to accomplish his mission? Well they had to wait and see. The second thing we celebrate at Christmas is that the same Christ has promised to come again. Um…great…… when is that going to happen? Well we have already been waiting 2000 years for Him to come again, and chances are we will be waiting a bit longer.
God is that which we can’t grasp, God is that which we can’t control, because the true God…IS. (period!). The season of advent is meant to remind us that we are not the centre of the universe, and that life doesn’t operate according to our schedule. In real life, things don’t magically happen exactly as you want when you want it, as our culture teaches us. Advent is the season that reminds us that Jesus is the centre around which the universe spines (if I can press the metaphor), and everything happens on God’s schedule. During advent we are reminded that Christ is coming, but we haven’t a clue when that’s going to be. During advent we are meant to remember that God knows what God is about, and he will answer our prayers, but it’s going to happen how he wants it to happen, and it’s going to take place when we least expect it, and all we can do now, is slow down, and wait, and surrender to grace. Christmas and Christianity isn’t primarily the story of humanities quest for God, but rather its mostly the story of God’s quest for us, it’s about God’s desire that we share in his life. Not because he needs us. God doesn’t need anything or anyone. But because he loves us. Grace is God’s free unsolicited gift of himself. It’s a gift we are free to accept or reject. God is making us wait so as to prepare our hearts for the gifts he is planning to give us when we are ready for it, when we are ready to surrender to grace.
By: Terrel Joseph (Campus Minister)