These beautiful words and their haunting melody translated from the Latin hymn “Veni, Veni Emmanuel” capture the heart of this season. For this Sunday marks the first week of Advent [celebrated this year December 3rd thru Christmas Eve] and the beginning of the Church Year. This is a new day and a new dawn as Nina Simone likes to sing.
The word Advent means "coming" or "arrival". The focus of the entire season is preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000-year-old event in history with nativity scenes of shepherds, wise men and cows and sheep in a stable. And it is far from the "merry and bright" celebration of the holiday, full of shopping and gift wrapping, pictures with Santa, and holiday parties. We do celebrate, but we celebrate the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. The liberation of all creation that is groaning, longing for redemption. A redemption in which we now participate, and the consummation of which we anticipate. We affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. This is our hope in a world brimming with suffering.
Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world, first expressed by Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is the cry of so many today, who are experienced the tyranny of injustice in a world gone mad, and yet who have hope of deliverance by a God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance! It is the cry of the immigrant, the refugee, the addict, the poor and the homeless. It is the cry of the Dreamers, victims of sexual misconduct, our Muslim neighbors, and our brown and black brothers and sisters who face injustice, discrimination, persecution, incarceration and violence every day.
It is this hope, however faint at times, that God, however seemingly distant, is here with us, our Emmanuel. It is this hope that while greed and violence and power rule the day, crushing the poor and oppressing the weak, we anticipate a good and wise King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over all people and all creation. It is this hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice and righteousness to the world. That into the darkness, a light will come. And it will be a light for all people.
This Advent, I do believe it is a new day and a new dawn for our community, and I believe there is an invitation to AWAKE, which is our theme this year. An invitation to awaken to hope, peace, joy, and to love. And to awaken to God’s dream for us as a faith community and the neighborhoods in which we live. If the critique of the North American church is that we have fallen asleep, lulled into the comforts of our own instagram-perfect lives, distracted by the pursuit of success and the good life and shiny objects that promise happiness, far removed from the suffering of the poor, the concerns of our neighbors and the injustices of those who are invisible -- then the call must be to AWAKE! To awake for the King is coming! God’s revolutionary kingdom is here. We don’t want to miss it! [For like so many throughout history, we so often miss seeing the Messiah when he does not appear as we might imagine.]
And so this Sunday, we will enter Advent with lament, with longing and with hope. We will yearn for freedom from oppression in our lives and in the lives of our neighbors and we will pray for justice to come to our streets. And we will wait with hope and light a candle into the darkness and cry, Come, Lord Jesus, Come.
by Jessica Ketola