The arrival of Advent this year may be more important than it ever has been before. The definition of the word itself should make this reality clear: the “arrival of a notable person, thing or event.”
We often speak in terms of the coming of Advent, but in fact, Advent is a coming in and of itself; and that is where it’s true power lies. Jesus the Son of Man is the “notable person,” but his notoriety was not established until some 30 years after his birth. The power of Advent is in the “thing,” the “event” that it represents — this is a time of miracles, a time of unexpected reversals that completely upend the status quo; this is a time when an unchanging God intervenes in a constantly changing world. Advent was made for such a time as this.
There is reason to believe that before Advent is over, a vaccine will be approved and start making the long and perilous journey out into the public desperately waiting for it. There is reason to believe that before Advent is over, the end of this pandemic will begin. There is reason to believe that a year like one that has not been seen for a century will come to a close with clear signs that our deliverance from this pestilence is at hand.
As of this writing, more than 1.4 million people around the world have succumbed to the coronavirus, and we know those numbers will grow steadily throughout the coming weeks and into the new year. But the end is in sight, and the “light that is life for all people” coming into the world this year will confront a darkness that has at times seemed overwhelming.
We need Advent this year.
We need the light of the world to cast out the dark shadows of death and destruction, isolation and suffering. We have lost so much more than the raw numbers can ever really account for; and if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t know if we will ever get some of it back again. There is a separation that we have endured in the physical, but it has impacted us so deeply in the mental and emotional spheres of our lives. Everything that comes with Jesus — healing, hope, justice, joy and overcoming power — we need all of this to flood our world, permeate our consciousness, saturate our spirits.
But like every notable “event,” Advent comes not just with a gift, but with some demands. Advent requires us to live up to its extraordinary standards. Healing is a gift. Justice and righteousness are demands. This year more than any other year, Advent is a time to celebrate but also to reflect and respond.
The election results, and the contentious transition that has followed, made one thing abundantly clear: We are so deeply divided that the phrase “deeply divided” does not even do justice in explaining our fractures. One candidate received the most votes ever cast for a presidential nominee. But the other candidate received the second most votes ever cast for a presidential nominee, after four years of … well, you know by now.
“Jesus was born in a manger out of the womb of an unwed mother because the world could not carry on anymore the way it had been.”
Jesus was born in a manger out of the womb of an unwed mother because the world could not carry on anymore the way it had been; the brokenness, the war, the mistreatment of the poor, the unending state-sponsored violence — it was all too much. God knew it. The suffering people knew it. Everyone but those who had been deceived by the empire and privileged with its luxuries knew it. But few were ready for what the Word made flesh was going to demand of all of us living in the flesh, and I would be lying if I told you I thought we were ready for it.
Not when critical race theory is under renewed assault 30 years after the first academics started talking about it. Not when Black Liberation Theology is being ignorantly attacked — again — as a tool to take down a candidate for higher office. Not when sellout Negroes like Daniel Cameron can still keep their jobs and even double down on their stiff-necked refusal to bring a Black woman justice. Not when half of one party’s voters believe — without any verifiable proof at all — that the election was rigged and widespread fraud occurred. Not when we still have to sit around and wonder if the winner of that election will actually be able to take office at the appointed time.
We’re not ready for Advent. But it’s coming anyway.
Advent is coming to expose the lies and reveal how the Father of Lies is working in our midst right now to make impossible the unity that Christ desires for us.
“Advent is coming specifically because we are not ready.”
Advent is coming to bring God’s truth to bear so that a light at the end of the tunnel of deception will shine bright.
Advent is coming to take away all pretense to faith when fear is actually the space from which most of us are operating day to day.
Advent is coming to bring the sword of peace that will force us to choose sides and stop acting like everything is “just a matter of opinion.”
Advent is coming specifically because we are not ready; it is coming to show us we are not ready and to demand that we get ready — ready for what God has wanted for us since the very beginning of time, since we were made in God’s image and set among the beauty and bliss of Eden.
Advent is coming. It is an “event.” It is a “thing.” And yes, it is a person. Jesus is the reason for this season, and whether we are celebrating it virtually and at a distance, or together with masks on and 6 feet apart, we need it now more than ever, and we must accept it for what it requires and demands of us, so that we can change who we are and how we move in this world.
Paul Robeson Ford serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church (Highland Avenue) in Winston-Salem, N.C. He was born and raised in New York City and grew up at the Riverside Church under the leadership of James A. Forbes Jr. He received a master of divinity degree from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago, where he is now a candidate for the Ph.D. in theology.