The word “waiting” is troubling in one important respect: it sounds passive. Too often, we feel waiting is wasted time – time spent waiting in line, waiting for our car to be ready at the repair shop, waiting for a friend to call. Waiting is viewed as the opposite of being in control. Waiting can make us feel helpless.
Advent is a time of waiting in the Christian year, but it is anything but passive. There is much to prepare for. God’s own Son is promised and his arrival is anxiously anticipated. When the Messiah comes, justice, mercy, kindness, compassion, love, generosity, and hope will become the new reality in which all may live. Advent is a time of excitement, instead of despair; a time of joy, instead of suffering; and Advent should be a time of active preparation to participate in the work of the Christ.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 (NRSV)
In our 21st century, we wait for many of the same things that the Jewish community waited for in the 1st century. We long for peace. We hope for justice. We seek unity and fairness. We hunger for kindness and compassion. We want mercy and healing. These things, and many others, we prayerfully request from God. But through the miracle of God’s Son, Jesus the Christ, we know that we cannot merely wait for God to take care of these things. If there will be peace in our day, justice for all, hope for the future, and a world where kindness, compassion, and mercy are available to all, it will be because the Christ is born in each one of us, and that together we function as the body of Christ for the world.
We view the horrors and atrocities of terrorism and we wonder why God doesn’t do something. Fear makes us take many missteps, confusing violence and ostracism with self-defense and vengeance and retribution with justice. Peace is rarely won through escalating violence, and restoration and unity never come through the building of walls and refusing to receive the stranger. How we respond to terrorism and refugees speaks volumes about how well we receive the gift of the Christ child in our day.
Through the power of God’s Holy Spirit we are transformed. We become wonderful counselors and champions of peace. We become agents through which salvation can come. We are the light that shines through the darkness that gives hope and promise to God’s future.
During Advent, we do not simply wait; we prepare. We prepare to receive the Messiah, and to become agents of God’s grace in the world. When we use Advent to become the vessels in which Christ is born, then truly joy and peace, mercy and justice are the gifts we receive at Christmas.
Grace and Peace,
Hee-Soo Jung, PhD
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).