Sunday, November 27, 2016

Advent - The Approaching King

Caesar comes for a visit
Photo by NoJin

This year Advent begins today, November 27th. Every Sunday and Thursday until Christmas, I'll be posting a series of short essays to help us listen for the approaching footsteps of the True King.

"Listen, I am coming soon!"
(Revelation 22.12, ERV)

Advent has been celebrated by Jesus' followers for millennia but these days it tends to get short shrift. In today's society it's been largely replaced by that hectic period of shopping, card writing, and drunken partying between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But at one time this was perhaps the most seditious season of all. And all because a peasant girl was in her last trimester.

Advent is an old Roman word that means, "the arrival of someone or something important." We use it today when we wonder how anyone managed to live "before the advent of the Internet," for instance.  For the ancient Romans though, an advent was the arrival of the Emperor himself on an official state visit. Heralds were sent out months ahead of time to announce the coming visit.  Buildings would be spruced up, the best food and entertainment would be arranged, and the richest family in the region would open up their estate to Caesar's use.

 We Christians announce the ultimate state visit: The arrival of the Christ, the King of the Universe. As Jesus' early followers understood (and as we still do today if the US President visits us in Montana or Morocco), a time of preparation is the appropriate response to a visit of this magnitude. And that is what the celebration called Advent is: A time of happy preparation for our King's imminent arrival.  As he draws ever nearer, we prepare ourselves for the moment when God invades history in the form of a poor family's baby.

Advent Gospel

It is this arrival of the Universal King that the Gospel -- the "Great Announcement" -- proclaims. The  Christian Movement announces a rival King, not just a sweet little baby in a manger or a man with nice ideas. As we have said elsewhere on this site, if Jesus is Lord, then Caesar is not.  That is why authority figures tended to be rather hostile toward us for the first 300 years of our existence (and sporadically since -- when they aren't trying to co-opt us!). The peasant girl's baby that Advent warns of and Christmas extols has been in head-to-head conflict with the powers of this world for the last 2000 years.

You've no doubt been aware of this since you first heard the Christmas story, though it may not have fully registered. But what after all were the "Wise Men" looking for when they arrived in Jerusalem and asked, "'Where is the one who is born king of the Jews?'" (Gospel of Matthew, chapter 2, verses 1 and 2). Or as the old carols proclaim: "Joy to the world... let Earth receive her King."

Christianity is, in the final analysis, a subversive little religion.

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