Advent is not only about waiting and expectation, but about how we should live during the period between Christ’s first and second comings. We’ve been hearing readings from Amos this past week, many of them starting with, “Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O people of Israel…” and others like it. Throughout the book, God is calling Israel to repentance, but they can’t seem to get it straight. They’re tempted by so many things. The gods of foreign nations are appealing because they give some kind of instant gratification. Israel struggles with waiting.
God does not bring all the punishment he does for the sake of causing harm. He earnestly desires his covenant people to act like his covenant people and to turn back to him. Makes sense, right? But how can that relationship remain if one side of the covenant is always turning away and pursuing other partners? Such a turning away is what fractures Israel’s relationship with her God. In Chapter 3, God says, “For how can we walk together with your sins between us?” (The Living Bible). He goes on to tell them that he is not “roaring as a lion in the forest” for no reason. God ferociously pursues his people out of love.
Much like Israel, we find the foreign gods of instant gratification available to us. We grow tired of waiting on God and turn to idols that provide us a quick fix. Or we try to fashion God in our own image, into what we prefer him to be, often taming him for the sake of our own comfort. Waiting and listening for God becomes a bore, or perhaps a challenge that we do not want to face. Sometimes we even struggle to know if God speaks to us any longer.
Advent is a looking back to God’s spoken Word taking on flesh, a reflection on his merciful act of Incarnation, his assumption of our corruptibility to lead us to incorruptibility. To turn from God or to fashion idols is to forget this. Advent challenges us to repent from the idols in our life and to turn our eyes back to the Incarnation and forward to Christ’s return. Rowan Williams, in an Advent sermon, reminds us:
“We are here at all, celebrating Advent…because there has been a word spoken, a word of unexpected interruption, a word that establishes for good the difference between the God we expect and the God who comes, a word that shows us once and for all what an idol looks like in the face of truth.”
A question to ask this Advent is: as I await the return of my King, what should I be turning away from, repenting of, putting behind me? We must see ourselves as the addressees of that stinging question: “For how can we walk together with your sins between us?” Repentance is always restoration leading to joy. Advent challenges us to move toward joy and to await that most joyful day of our Lord’s return.
Merciful God, prepare us for your return. Assist us in laying aside the sin that clings so closely and let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Amen.