Preparing for Worship – George Mason, senior pastor.
The word advent comes from the Latin adventus, meaning coming into view, arrival or appearance. When capitalized, Advent refers to the season of the church year we begin this Sunday — a four-week time of fasting before the feasting of the Nativity of Christ.
Most years you wouldn’t know Advent is penitential. There’s little evidence of self-discipline in the weeks leading to Christmas. The tree goes up, ornaments are hung, lights are strung. Christmas music plays all month long as if there’s nothing to wait for. Parties for every social group we belong to speckle the season.
This year is different. We are forced to reflect and challenged to protect. The advent of COVID-19 is a physical pandemic and a spiritual parable at the same time. It’s not just about a contagious virus, it is also about the state of our hearts toward our neighbors. Are we careful out of love or careless in our freedom?
While coronavirus attacks the underlying conditions in our body that we have failed to attend to, it also exposes the unseen condition of our souls. Our fears about our mortality and the judgment of God upon our manner of life are acute right now.
Meditating upon the coming of Christ brings judgment into view. We cannot go on forever without a reckoning, or what’s the point of morality? And yet, our fear gives way to hope when we realize that the one who comes in judgment on us is the same one who comes in mercy for us. Whether we experience Christ’s advent as more hope or fear depends upon our spiritual preparation.
Think of it this way: if you knew Christ was coming to your house in the weeks ahead but didn’t know precisely when he would arrive, how would you prepare? More than likely, you would begin to make your house a fitting home for him — clean, light, welcoming. And if so, you would live in hope of his arrival more than in fear of it.
In the Phillips Brooks carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” we find these words about the place where the holy family found no room at the inn: “… the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Let’s make this Advent a time of more hope than fear.