What’s Cyrus have to do with Advent?

As the semester comes to a close for me, I am able to do a bit of reflecting on the work I’ve done and what I’ve read. One line from Xenophon’s Cyropaedia in particular stood out to me:

For I think it is a great work to gain an empire, but it is an even much greater work to keep one safe after taking it.

Now Xenophon is writing a fictional historical biography on Cyrus the Great and his work is in many respects an encomium to the leader that lived some two centuries prior. But it occurred to me that there were lessons that could be taken from Cyrus’ thoughts on military leadership that are relevant for us as individuals and churches today, especially during this hectic holiday season.

My wife has noticed recently that my passion comes in spurts –  or maybe she’s known this about me for some while and has only recently brought it up. For months I was consumed with the 2012 elections. I read about it, watched repetitive news cycles about it, and wrote often about it. Since November 7th, though, my passion has shifted more full-time to college athletics. I watch much more college and pro football since the election ended and am now watching a fair amount of college basketball.

The truth is, it’s hard to keep my attention for an extended period of time. This isn’t true in every area of my life. The research I do as a historian of early Christianity has been a sustained interest of mine for years now, for instance, and I see no hint of that waning. But the point of Cyrus’ words here seem to me to be that acquiring things is not the hard part, it’s the maintenance that is much more toilsome.

For Cyrus this meant that he was in charge of many more people and that he had to figure out new and delicate ways to maintain war-time alliances in times of peace for the mutual benefit of all parties involved. For us it may mean that we have to figure out where to go after a “spiritual high” or what to do after we got the church job we were desperately seeking. We’ve finally become a Christian, but now how are we supposed to live?

Christmas is, in some respects, an easy holiday. There is a lot of build up, to be sure, but on December 26th most of us leave Christmas behind us (even though the season of Christmas technically begins on December 25th and runs until the day before Epiphany). Advent, on the other hand, is not as easy. We’re supposed to maintain our contemplative and hopeful attitude for a whole month. It is tough sometimes to remember and to make time to read our advent devotional every evening and to be an active participant in the season, but when we do our celebration of Christmas is so much more meaningful, for we have been waiting for it.

It is the small and tedious tasks of maintenance that are sometimes the most difficult, but I have found that these are also the most rewarding.

Thomas Whitley

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Thomas Whitley holds a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Divinity from Gardner-Webb University. He is currently working on a PhD in Religions of Western Antiquity at Florida State University. He regularly writes on religion, technology, and politics at thomaswhitley.com.

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