(Warning: Theological Content to follow).
Every year Joy and I prepare for Christmas in what has become a traditional way. After Thanksgiving (and not before), we take out a small box of Christmas decorations: two nutcrackers, family ornaments, stockings, and a nativity. We bake gingerbread cookies, make hot cocoa, and set the music to Over the Rhine’s “Snow Angels” as we decorate the tree. Gingerbread cookies, Snow Angels, and the movie Children of Men only appear during the weeks leading up to Christmas, during the season of Advent, filling the weeks prior to Advent with a type of anticipation of its own.
Advent is my favorite time of year. This holy time marks, for me, a special moment of both reflection and preparation, of contemplation and action. During this time, our memories are jarred once again to the notion that God has come in Jesus, is present with us, and will come again. Alongside Mary, we celebrate the annunciation of the Coming Lord. We celebrate what God has already done. And like Simeon, we wait in eager expectation of the fullness of God’s righteousness to be completed on earth as it is in heaven. We celebrate and long for what God has yet to do.
This year, we added another Advent portion to the season. We pulled together an Advent walk through scripture, a reading in the Gospels, Prophets, or Psalms each day of the week, and two on Sunday. Each morning at breakfast, we have Justice open up the next colorful envelope and hand the card to mama or daddy. She recognized early that the last card, the one marked 25, is the only Pink card on the line. About a week ago, she started asking whether we could open the Pink one. We tell her that it isn’t yet time, that it will be opened, and that she needs to be patient. And yet, almost like a prayer, she continues to ask whether she can open the Pink one.
It’s amazing how children help guide us during these times. Something as simple as one color by itself can fill a child with anticipation. Her waiting for that envelope is not unlike our waiting for the Coming Lord. This year, two revelations have been restored in my thoughts while traveling through Advent.
1). Advent/Christmas remains a time we remember the radical nature of a Missionary God.
Perhaps because Joy and I live into the vocational calling of “missionaries,” I’m continually struck by the missionary nature of the Incarnation. That is, God sent the Son to be with us in order to reconcile all of creation to be one with its Creator. In the Gospel of Matthew, the words of Isaiah ring forth: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call him Immanuel, which means God with us.” And Philippians 2 adds that Jesus did not consider equality with God something to hold on to, but rather became like us.
Most Christians understand that a wide gap exists between God and humanity. That is, we are not God. And yet, God chooses to enter into our existence, into the depths of humanity and even death, in the person of Jesus. It is then, through Jesus that we understand God’s nature as a God-on-the-move. God is on the move to restore, redeem, heal, and reconcile the brokenness of our lives and bring them into a loving fullness described as abundant life through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw describe it like this, “God is set loose in the world for mission, fully as God and man. God’s very presence is bursting out into the world in and through the death of the Son” (38). The Incarnation is a missionary act. God’s movement toward us describes the mission of God to redeem the world. And it is a movement that we ought emulate.
2). The missionary act of entering into a new culture is one met with waiting and patience.
Advent remains that time of year in which the church remembers that we are a people between time, an “already but not yet” community that both mourns the brokenness around us and anticipates the new life that has already come and is coming through Jesus of Nazareth. In Matthew, we read parables of waiting and readiness (Matthew 25). We are told to anticipate and be ready for the Coming of the Lord. The way the church prepares for this coming is by living in the present the kind of Life that God, in Jesus, proclaims. We are to be a visible marker of the Kingdom of God for the world to see. In this way, the church is an extension of the incarnation for the sake of the world. And yet, we are grieved by the amount of death, brokenness, sickness, and isolation all around us. We live in the tension between the brokenness of our communities and the patient hope of renewed life through Jesus Christ.
Joy and I spent 3 months in a type purgatorial waiting. Between ending jobs in Nashville, moving out of our apartment, and living in my mother-in-law’s basement, we spent a fair amount of time waiting to move to Hawaii. But once here, we’ve found a whole new meaning for being patient. Learning a new culture, meeting new people, establishing new friendships, and beginning a new ministry position (all while anticipating the birth of our second born), all takes a lot of time. Through it all, the hurts and pains of our neighbors are becoming even more realized. Our prayers are becoming more poignant, more invested in this place. We truly believe that we are a part of a team and a church that that will witness faithfully to God’s Kingdom come here on the Kona Coast, but a lot of our work is still very much preparatory.
Advent has once again reminded me of the need to be patient; that God’s Kingdom does not come by my ability and skill, but only through the grace and presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Advent has allowed me to slow down, recognize the importance of my presence-for-others, and truly live into the call of missionary.