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Advent Hope

November 29, 2015 was the start of Advent in the current Christian liturgical calendar – four Sundays before Christmas. It is the season of hope, preparation, anticipation and waiting. The definition of the Advent is “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event – an emergence, materializationoccurrence, dawn, birth, rise or development. Often this is simply thought of as the physical birth of the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, while others view Advent with a broader vision, looking to a second coming or the emergence of the kingdom of God.

I just finished re-reading books by two outstanding biblical historians and theologians: Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope and Markus J. Borg’s Jesus A New Vision. Both scholars share that the early Christian understanding of the message of Jesus was about the coming kingdom of God with salvation more as a release from bondage and return from exile than an other-worldly concern about what happens to us after we die. Wright emphasizes a bodily resurrection and the early Christian expectation that Christ will return, with God ultimately setting the world to rights. Borg emphasizes Jesus’s resurrection as “the birth of the living Christ” – Immanuel, God with us and Jesus’ passion to “transform culture in the name of the Spirit.” These two scholars debate the issues with exquisite courtesy and love in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions.

Brian McLaren in We Make the Road by Walking audaciously suggests that the Gospel of Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth may be a “made-up story about Mary to echo Isaiah’s prophecy about a son being born to a virgin, just as he invented the story of Elizabeth conceiving in old age to echo the story of Sarah.” But perhaps the point is “to challenge us to blur the line between what we think is possible and what we think is impossible… Maybe the present moment is pregnant with possibilities we can’t even see or even imagine.”

So where lies our Advent hope this Christmas season? Is the coming of the kingdom a future act of an interventionist God or is it god who is presently at work in our world in us and through us? If God is love, are not our simple acts of extravagant kindness/generosity and our courage to speak/act for justice and peace our Advent hope?

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight…”