Waiting for God

When tasked with explaining how the Church year functions, I often use the metaphor of light. At Christmas, light comes into the world, light which shines brightly outward through the season of Epiphany, before we turn it inwards in Lent, after which point we are empowered to be our own lights throughout Pentecost. In this extended metaphor, Advent is the season before all that, the time when we sit in darkness waiting for light to come. As such, it is a season of watchfulness and preparation. In previous years, I’ve spent Advent exploring themes of Exile and Vigil, hope and expectation in the ‘O’ Antiphons, preparation through the Advent hymn “People Look East,” and, last year the theme ‘Stop, Look, and Listen.’

On the one hand, I find these themes get a bit repetitive year after year. On the other hand, in both big and small ways, the world is always a challenging and often even frightening place; and so these messages of patience, hope, watchfulness, and preparation are always relevant, and take on a new shade of meaning for us every year.

When I think of these themes from a theological perspective, I always return to the book of Isaiah. The oracles contained in this book are pieces of incredible poetry and, as Christians, we can’t help but see Jesus shimmering beneath the surface of their words. But it’s important to remember that these beautiful texts were not generic or abstract, but were written to address specific periods of crisis in the national life of Israel and Judah: The Syro-Ephraimite crisis (735 BCE), when the Kingdoms of Syria and Israel invaded Judah, who refused to join their alliance against the looming Assyrian threat; the deportation of the Israelites at the hands of Assyria (720 BCE); the later Babylonian invasion of Judah, sack of Jerusalem and Exile (ca. 600-587 BCE); and the rise of Persia and subsequent end to the Exile and rebuilding of Jerusalem (ca 538-516 BCE). So, as much as we may see Jesus hinted in their words, he wasn’t the primary referent. They were written to give hope to people in a world that felt like it had gone mad. And so they’re particularly relevant for us in our own times, when everything that once felt sure seems to be wobbling.

This year, I’d like to spend Advent exploring our themes of patience, hope, watchfulness, and preparation through the lens of some of these oracles. What did they mean for those who first heard them? What does that message have to say to us today? And, of course, how might they point to Jesus?

I hope you’ll join me as we wait with expectation for the light to come once again this year.

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