This Sunday (December 3rd) marks the beginning of the Advent season in our Christian year. While the culture has been selling Christmas merchandise for many weeks already and some churches have joined the culture in celebrating Advent and Christmas early, Advent is not just about getting ready for Christmas. In fact, Advent is a season which stands on its own in terms of the spiritual lessons involved.
In his book titled “Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics,” Samuel Wells reminds us of our role in the five-act drama of faith. Act One, he says, is Creation, in which “there was too much love in the Trinity for God to keep it to himself.” Act Two is Israel, in which God creates a people to have in relationship. Act Three is the central act in the drama, namely Jesus as the dramatic revelation of God, the creator, to the whole creation. Act Four is the church, in which God gives all that is needed for the followers of Christ to keep revealing God to the world. Yet to come is Act Five, the end or final fulfillment, which will happen in God’s time, and not even Jesus knows that hour.
Wells reminds us that our own faith gets into trouble when we lose sight of which we are role we are playing. If we think we are in Act One, creation, we tend to place ourselves at the center of life. If we think we are Act Two, then we may live as though the Messiah had not yet come, perhaps even adopting a “messiah complex” about ourselves, our ministry, our wisdom, or our nation. If we confuse our role with that of Act Three, Jesus, then we really mistake the importance of our own life and witness, acting as though it all depends upon us. Wells calls this, “Taking on the role of Jesus, rather than enjoying being his disciple.”
We are called to live within Act Four, being the church, focusing upon our role as followers of Jesus, as the community of saints. Wells notes that in the New Testament the word is always plural, saints, because, “Saints are never alone. They assume, demand, and require community.” If we try to move beyond Act Four and to live in Act Five, we can be misled into thinking that the building of the Kingdom of God is within our ability and our timing. Act Five belongs to God, and it is solely within God’s wisdom and God’s timing.
Advent reminds us that God’s kingdom is still coming, that the promises of God which have been fulfilled in the central act of the drama (Jesus) will be completed within God’s design and God’s timing. Our role in the drama of faith is to focus upon living as disciples of Jesus, gathered into a community of saints, continuing the revelation of Jesus to the world, and waiting with faith and patience for the final act of God. Advent reminds us that this Gospel drama is directed by God, and we have a role to play, but God is the author, director, and final actor of the drama.
Advent is much, much more than simply getting ready for Christmas.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner