By the Rev’d Dr. Charles Erlandson
Advent is God’s cosmic alarm clock.
Since we humans are creatures bound by time and we will have calendars, we will observe hours and days and times and seasons. We will set alarm clocks and timers so that we don’t miss something important. Many of us will even observe the holy time that is set aside for our favorite TV show or sporting event and even perform the supererogatory work of learning how to program those newfangled digital recording devices—or perhaps some are still using their old VCR.
But the fact is that we often don’t sanctify the time that is one of God’s choicest gifts. Like the characters in Kerouac’s On the Road, we claim to know time, when in reality we are more likely to waste time or kill time than we are to redeem or know it.
A simple question will illustrate our common thinking about time. The question is: “When does the new year begin?” Most of us would instinctively answer “January 1 (duh!).” Some might answer, “When the fiscal year begins,” and others might groan and say that the new year begins in the middle of August when school starts.
But why not observe the church calendar, not just as a nice little ornament of our lives but as the structure of our time? For Christians, Advent is our New Year’s.
And Advent is God’s cosmic alarm clock.
As such, Advent is necessary because Trinity is often a season of sleep and slumber. It’s a long season, and sometimes we don’t know how to occupy the time during Trinity. It’s also necessary because something so extraordinary and marvelous is about to happen—the Coming of Jesus Christ—that we must awake from our slumber and prepare ourselves.
The truth is that we need theological alarm clocks every hour and every day, and not just every year. We have a nasty habit of hitting the snooze alarm in our lives and sleeping through the next alarm. We love to go back for a little sleep, a little slumber, believing that we will spontaneously wake up. But without our theological alarm clocks, the truth is we will never awake but continue to drift into a deeper and deeper spiritual slumber.
Once we’ve been awakened again, how shall we use the time of Advent that God has given us? The answer is that Advent is a season of preparation. We’ve all heard the saying, “Prepare to meet your maker!” It’s usually heard in the context of someone about to be killed, but it has a special meaning with regard to Advent, because preparing to meet our Maker and Savior is the whole point of Advent and why we must be awakened. We prepare to meet our God, our Maker, because He has come to meet us in His first Advent or Coming. “Immanuel,” “God with us,” is the reason we celebrate Christmas. God has broken into the time and history of our lives and become one of us. Because of the love and glory and cosmic implications of God’s dramatic action in His incarnation, His first coming to us, we’d better prepare our hearts to receive Him as our long expected Savior.
But Advent also celebrates the Second Advent or Second Coming of Jesus Christ. While Christmas is historically past (though in reality it persists every day of our lives), the Second Coming, at which Jesus Christ will judge both the quick and the dead, is yet to come. One day, at the Second Coming, we will meet our Maker with finality and be summoned to give an account of our lives. At that time, or at the time we die, whichever comes first, our time will have run out. So we’d better have awakened and prepared beforehand.
It always amazes me how much time, money, and effort even Christians in America spend preparing for the Advent of Christmas – not for the Advent of Christ that’s celebrated at Christmas – but for the Advent of Christmas as a holiday (and not necessarily a holy day.) We carefully save our money and budget it so that we can give each other gifts. We prepare months or even a year in advance to make sure we will be able to go where we want to go to celebrate Christmas the next year. We make a big deal about it with our children and know how to fill their little lives with joyful anticipation.
But do we spend as much time and energy preparing for the coming, not of Santa Claus, but of the Lord Jesus Christ? In Advent, we are given up to four entire weeks to prepare. This year, why not use Advent as a time of holy preparation?
Advent is here, which means the King is coming.
Are you ready?
Fr. Charles Erlandson is the assistant rector at Good Shepherd Reformed Episcopal Church in Tyler, TX, where he also serves as a high school teacher at Good Shepherd School. He holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Lancaster University (U.K.), teaches as an adjunct professor at Cranmer Theological House, and has a number of other books in progress. His daily devotional, “Give Us This Day,” can be found at <http://giveusthisdaydevotional.com/>.
Article originally published in the original email/print journal Earth & Altar, in the Advent, 2006 edition.