Heart and Mind - December 2019
Heart and Mind - Dr. Lou Yock
Advent is a Latin word that means “coming,” as in an anticipated arrival. Latin users chose this word to translate the Greek term parousia, which was associated with the the arrival or visit of a great dignitary, such as a king or an emperor. For many Christians the term Advent, the coming or arrival, has a double meaning. The first meaning is about the first coming, that is the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. The second meaning is about Christ’s return at the end of time, the Second Coming, or end of the world. The Bible readings used in Christian churches at this time of year are usually about the Jews’ longing for the coming of a messiah, together with texts that are often interpreted as referring to Jesus’ return and the end of the world.
We will use some of these texts used in Christian churches for our responsive readings, as found in our hymnal. The appeal of Advent, to me at least, is that it is about yearning for better things and better times, and at a practical level, for justice. That sense of justice would include good governance where the strangers, the refugees, the poor, and the “widows and orphans” are looked after and cared for. At this time of year, we can hear the ancient prophets warn that when a people forget about caring for the vulnerable, or ignore or persecute them, bad things happen.
What makes these biblical texts so noteworthy is that they grew out of times of political upheaval and despondence. The Jews, and then the Christians who adopted their writings and added some of their own, knew and lived injustice. In this sense, while the values expressed in the scriptures can be spiritualized and allegorized, really, at the most basic level, they are about politics gone wrong and personal experiences in war and peace.
As we light our advent wreath, be aware that we are following in millennia of readings and customs that deal with injustice and longing. In response, people are encouraged to cultivate hope and goodwill. We largely know Advent in its commercial form, as it is a way to count down the day to Christmas. But for the more than a billion people who observe its traditions and proclaim its stories, I would suggest it is worth giving a listen…with the added bonus of it being hopeful and pretty.