First Sunday of Advent: Prophesy, Longing, and Hope

If Advent is a season characterized by waiting, for what and for whom are we waiting? Whose arrival are we anticipating? What is it that we wish for and yearn for? What is our hope pinned on? The first Sunday of Advent focuses us on prophesies of God’s coming kingdom as well as our hope and longing for Jesus to establish it. The passages that we read this week center on our longing for God’s kingdom, what the kingdom and Messiah will be like, and how Jesus is the very one we have been hoping, longing, and waiting for. The Old Testament passages remind us of the centuries-old hope for the Messiah, and the New Testament passages remind us of our hope and longing for Christ to come again.

Both the psalmist and the prophet Isaiah are writing in the midst of, and out of, the suffering of their people. The questions they ask—Where are you, God? Why don’t you do something to fix this awful situation? Why don’t you “come down” and make things right?—are the same that we ask today. How often do we wonder “Where is God now?” Just listen to the news; we hear of so much violence, both in foreign lands and in our own city streets. We hear of dissatisfaction with the economy and politics. We hear of poverty and hunger. We know people who are sick, people who are dying, people who have recently died. Even our days are getting darker, colder, rainier.

During Advent, we sing this song, so full of longing for Emmanuel, “God With Us”:

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

In the middle of our “lonely exile,” “gloomy clouds of night,” and “death’s dark shadows” along comes Advent, with its message of hope and joy and its promise of peace and healing. The scriptures teach us that Christ is coming into the world—and is in fact already present among us—and on the first Sunday of Advent, this is our hope. No matter how bad things are, there is this gift: God entering into the world in the form of a child.

The object of Christian hope is the kingdom of God, and we continue to hope for it because we know God is faithful and God can be trusted. God knows our anxieties, God knows that we pass through hard places, God knows that we wonder about our destinies, where and how life is going to end for us. Christians believe that the fulfillment of this hope has been made possible through the first coming of Christ. We believe that God has indeed come down to us. And we hope for even more. The best is yet to come: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Right now, we live in the in-between times. So what do we do now? We go about our lives, we live and work and rest and love and pray. On our better days, we live in faith and confidence, trusting all that we are, all that we have, and all that we hope to be to the Lord. On our not-so-good days, we ask God to carry us through. We remember that the holy breaks into the daily, the extraordinary interrupts the ordinary, and we long for it and look for it expectantly.

Advent is a time for honoring longing—a longing which has already been answered by Jesus. Emmanuel means precisely “God-With-Us.” God is already with us, loving us, teaching us—so although our hope is not yet fully fulfilled, in some ways it is already fulfilled. We are reminded that we belong to God, and that all the earth belongs to God, and we believe that God breaks into this reality regularly. He has already been born, he is already in our midst offering his healing presence and exhilarating love. We may have stumbled over this gift of God’s presence a thousand times, not recognizing it for what it truly is. During Advent, then, our first step is to open up our planned out lives so that a little surprise can sneak into our day. Loosen up, look beyond the lists, be attentive beyond our own planning and hope for something new. God is always showing up where least expected, if only we would stop and notice.

Author: Alicia McClintic

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