Advent: Why Bother?

[This post was originally posted in November 2010. But if you’re joining us now, it may be an ideal place to start as Advent 2013 nears.]

Growing up, “Advent” was an unfamiliar word.

It wasn’t something my church observed, and I’d have been hard-pressed even to define the term.  So let’s start there.

Advent: the arrival of something important or awaited.

With that line in mind, it’s not hard to see a link to Christmas.  A season called “Advent” naturally becomes the block of time ahead of Christ’s arrival at Bethlehem, under the star, in the manger.  Unlike the unexpecting world into which he arrived, we have access to a realm of readiness.

Through the centuries, entire streams of Christian tradition have paid close attention to the “Christian Calendar”.  All of us could identify Christmas and Easter from this list of dates, but seasons like Advent might be more foreign.

The practical side of me rises up with this question: Why bother?  What is gained by trying to tune into ancient events?  Is today impacted in any measurable way by such efforts?  What value might I find in any efforts to enter this “realm of readiness”?

One great answer might come from one great story.

In the Lord of the Rings, one scene depicts Frodo and Sam, from a place of near despair, considering their roles in the grand scheme of things.  One night at the edge of Mordor, the evil realm which will bring about their almost certain doom, they recognize the crazy possibility that they, small as they are, might be part of a great and ongoing tale.

Considering the great tales they’d heard as children, they marvel at the thought that the ones IN those tales never knew the outcome, that if they HAD, they might have turned back.  Then Sam remembers one specific tale:

“Beren now, he never thought he was going to get that Silmaril [jewel] from the Iron Crown in Thangorodrim, and yet he did, and that was a worse place and the blacker danger than ours. But that’s a long tale, of course, and goes on past the happiness and into grief and beyond it—and the Silmaril went on and came to Eärendil. And why, sir, I never thought of that before! We’ve got–you’ve got some of the light of it in that star-glass that the Lady gave you! Why, to think of it, we’re all in the same tale still! It’s going on. Don’t the great tales never end?”

“No they never end as tales,” said Frodo. “But the people in them come, and go when their part’s ended.”

Bobby Gross comments on this section:

“Then the two begin to imagine some family by a fireside, years in the future, the children clamoring for the story of Frodo and the Ring. It makes Frodo laugh aloud on the desolate crag. “Why Sam,” he says, “to hear you somehow makes me as merry as if the story was already written.”

You see, it dawned on Sam, in that dark moment, that the crystal file given to Frodo contains a bit of ancient light, the light of life, the light of the bright Evening Star. Part of the past was available to them, with power, in their present situation. Frodo, too, experiences a kind of grace. His laughter “as if the story was already written” lifts him in his present moment.

And so it is for us.

By some serious grace, the light of the Christ who lived in history comes into our present experience with spiritual power, and the hope of the Christ who will return in glory to renew all things also brings power into our lives. Eternity intersects Time.”

Practices like Advent help us to live at that most significant intersection.

And that’s why we bother.


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