Here we are again in the season of waiting: Advent.
Of course the rest of the world waits too at this time of year. Our shopping begins earlier and earlier in anticipation of Christmas day. So do our parties and our gift-giving. But our waiting is a little different: it’s pregnant with meaning. It’s active, filled with hope and most of all, it’s formative.
Very early on in the life of the church, Christians made their own calendar, based on the life of Jesus — one that offers a different rhythm of life and reminds us of the Gospel. It’s a powerful tool of discipleship, because it runs alongside our lives — forming us and reminding us that we are in the world, but not of it. It speaks the language of heaven into our ordinary days.
So, while the rest of the world gets their retail on, Christians seek to unplug and try and do this different thing. We get out the beautiful Sarum blue — the same Advent blue which signifies hope — and as we read lessons full of warnings to be ready for the second coming of Jesus, we remind ourselves that just as we had no idea when and how God would send us a solution to our disorder and disconnection the first time, the Lord will do it again, in God’s own time and in God’s own way.
This time is active because, during Advent, we enter an intentional time of introspection and preparation and examination: a time to mull over and renew our commitment to the One who is coming: Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. It’s important for us to be reminded, from time to time, of who we are and to whom we belong. It also reminds us to loosen our conformity with the world. As disciples, we are to further God’s mission, to be the hearts and hands of Jesus Christ, and to do our best to work for transformation in this world by loving each other as we would be loved.
The scale of such an effort — to love all people as ourselves is huge. It may even seem at times, given our propensity to sin and violence and to be dishonest with ourselves, never mind our neighbour, to be near impossible. They say we are fools to hope for the best in humanity when only the worst is on display.
But this is the story the world tells, not ours. To quote the late, great Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything. It’s how the light gets in.” Our story is hope-filled; it’s about being compelled to love because we wholeheartedly believe that by the grace of God we can lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.
The Gospel of this Advent season bids us not just to wait and watch but to be prepared for the cracks and break them open with love.
God extends the invitation to us in Niagara once again: to see the world differently and to walk in the light of the Lord, more deeply, more fully, more faithfully as believers in the One who is coming.
May we do so this Advent, as we look towards the celebration of Jesus’ birth and all the wonderful promise it holds for our world.
Bishop Susan Bell is the 12th Bishop of Niagara. A strategic, mission-centred, spiritual leader, Bishop Bell strives to listen and watch for where God is at work in the church and the world and then to come alongside that work.