On long car trips, we’ve decided, rules go out the window. Anything is fair game. Limits on TV viewing are abolished; lollipops are introduced. Ice cream is a possibility, and chicken mcnuggets, and (this is serious) we’ll even allow “kids’ music” to be played until it drives us parents out of our minds.
|CC image courtesy of Wonderlane on flickr|
We live in farm country, middle america. Set your radius to 600 miles and draw a circle around us; all of our extended family members live outside the circle. So several times a year, you’ll find the four of us strapped in for 10-14 hour pilgrimages, usually heading south.
After ten hours, even candy and kids’ shows lose their charm; for a solid hour at the end of the trip, our travel soundtrack transitions into screaming (Owen) and pitiful whimpers, wishes we had never left our sweet home (Rosie).
It’s a lot of fun.
Driving back to Indiana after Thanksgiving in Arkansas, I tried to think of how enduring the car trip, desperately waiting for it to end, could be related to the watchful waiting we practice during Advent.
I didn’t come up with anything.
The coming of Christ has a threefold meaning. Richard John Neuhaus: “As then he came and now he comes and will one day come again, awaken us to the then and now and one day of his presence in this present moment.”
I used to understand only the first of these of these “comings” that we watch for during Advent. I understood, of course, that we were remembering how Israel watched and waited for a Messiah, and how that waiting was fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. As then he came.
But my understanding of Christ’s coming in the now and one day was incomplete. I used to think that we were supposed to be watching and waiting for Jesus’ second coming, in the clouds, in glory, to rapture us all away from the earth and into heaven. As for Jesus’ coming into the present moment, I suppose I would have said that was about waiting on him to accomplish personal sanctification in my own heart and life.
The way I used to understand it, waiting on Jesus in the now and the one day was a lot like waiting for a dreadfully long car trip to end; someday I would be home and removed from the painful situation, and in the meantime there was not much to do but get a peppermint mocha and develop patience.
Thanks to N.T. Wright, my understanding of the coming of Jesus in the present and future has changed radically. Advent's waiting is so much richer than just enduring present pain in hope of its eventual end.
The sojourn of Advent, in other words, is nothing like a cross-country drive with preschoolers.
In Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright asks (about death, heaven, and resurrection):
What are we waiting for? And what are we going to do about it in the meantime?
With his answer, Wright upended my understanding of the kingdom of heaven. I began to understand “heaven” as more about Jesus returning to reign in power and glory in a “new earth” right here, and less about Christians being raptured up to the clouds.
Because the early Christians believed that resurrection had begun with Jesus and would be completed in the great final resurrection on the last day, they believed that God had called them to work with him, in the power of the Spirit, to implement the achievement of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final resurrection, in personal and political life, in mission and holiness. It was not merely that God had inaugurated the “end” ; if Jesus, the Messiah, was the End in person, God’s future-arrived-in-the-present, then those who belonged to Jesus and followed him and were empowered by his Spirit were charged with transforming the present, as far as they were able, in the light of the future. (46)
If this is true, then waiting for Jesus in the now and the one day is about transforming the present in the power of the Spirit. It's about praying “thy kingdom come,” watching for the ways in which God is answering that prayer, and then joining his work.
In the birth of Jesus, the new kingdom has already been inaugurated; Advent means watching for that kingdom to continue breaking out in our hearts and lives and world as we await the day when ALL things will be made new. And as we wait, Common Prayer says, "we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world."