Editor’s Note: The Advocate Blog completes its summer sabbatical with renewed energy, commitment, and creativity. As many churches are launching their fall programs and/or still finding ways to “be church” during COVID, the Advocate invites you to look ahead toward Advent. We begin a 6-week focus on biblical themes, theoretical implications, and practical applications for Advent, 2021 (Year C). We hope these blog posts will stir your thinking and dreaming toward Advent planning and preparation.
How Do We Live in Advent Hope?
The COVID virus breaks out among unvaccinated children at school, a drone strike leaves ten people dead, and a hurricane damages the Gulf Coast. It’s the news of the week. And we were already totally overwhelmed before we attempted to engage these latest events!
The hope of Advent seems distant and unattainable. How do we live in hope when it’s not here yet? Perhaps this Advent we are called to a more robust version of hope. Biblical hope is never simplistic, never wishful thinking.
Let’s remember Advent’s calling. Advent contains at least two theological themes: the coming of Christ as a child and the future coming of Christ at the end of time. A first coming and a second coming. Incarnation and eschatology. Joy and penitence. Or, as our hymns resound: “Joy to the World! The Lord is Come” and “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending.” It is a tense relationship to maintain within a single four-week period!
However, we need this creative relationship now because it speaks directly to our reality. Despite the pressure of Christmas to emphasize the joyful elements of Advent, we live in a world of joy and sorrow. In our self-help society, it seems more natural to focus on the jubilant aspects of Advent and leave behind the tension of joy and penitence, but this strategy abandons the complex realities of life. Advent hope is not simply a good dream or hopeful wish.
Theologian Amy Plantinga Pauw helpfully brings forward the theme of “longing” for consideration during the season of Advent by noting, “Longing for God is a permanent feature of church life on earth.” Thus, she turns our Advent waiting into a desirous activity, a posture of urges and eagerness. She suggests this longing occurs because the church recognizes Christ has come indeed, yet the world’s ills also demonstrate the need for Christ’s presence. Alternatively, we might speak of “hope” as a unifying element bringing our different Advent themes together. We have hope in what the Incarnation brings to our world each day, even as we hope for the setting right of things with the culmination of history. This theme takes seriously Advent’s orientation to future events and its unwillingness to maintain a view only on current reality. To hope is to dream of a new way, a way revealed in and through Jesus. Yet, Advent is not solely about waiting. Advent is not just about fulfillment and hope. It does not have to be merely a wait-and-see month of Sundays for the Church as we anticipate Christmas. The gospel, the commonwealth of God, is here among us already—now!
The Old Testament lessons for Advent this year come from the prophets – Jeremiah, Malachi, Zephaniah, and Micah. These passages certainly live into the tensions of Advent. The prophets were dreamers; they could not settle for the injustices of their day. Instead, they dared to envision a new day when God’s promises are fulfilled (Jeremiah 33:14-16). Of course, this new day of justice and righteousness would involve refinement and judgment (Malachi 3:1-4). But also joy and exultation (Zephaniah 3:14-20). The prophets did not give up hope that God was doing new things to banish evils and turn the world aright.
The prophets of old can lead us toward a robust understanding of hope that does not disregard our present ills but continues to imagine a better world for all.
 Amy Plantiga Pauw, Church in Ordinary Time: A Wisdom Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 120.