I have been guilty during Advent of presuming that I am the only one who waits, as if I alone represent the whole earth longing for renewal. Students rush between final exams and Christmas plans, and I beg them to slow down just a little, remembering the season which precedes the joyous holiday, the one which reminds us that things are not as they should be in the world. At lunch today, for example, a group of international students were sharing tales of the rumoured Canadian Boxing Day sales, unaware of my feeble attempts to hold the shopping back just a few more days.
Yet it is from a completely unexpected group of students that I am learning my most vital Advent lesson this year: I am not the only one who waits. It was last week when I sat in on a small recital of singer-songwriters using our chapel space and heard a woman singing in memory of her deceased friend. “If we only knew,” she sang, “Love was always there. Long before our birth, older than the earth, closer than the air; love will be our home- love will take us there…”
As I listened to the woman’s song with Advent in the back of my mind, I heard a person declaring that a world in which friends die young is not as it should be. She holds onto a hope that we were created for a world in which young men and woman do not go away to war and typhoons to not wash away houses in the night. One day, declared the singer, things will be as they should be. The longing for a new world, I had to admit to myself, is not only a Christian hope. It is a hope imprinted deep within all of us, the knowledge that things are not okay in the world, the sense that we are waiting for something new to happen.
In the Old Testament, we find the judges, the psalmists, and the prophets crying out “How long?” and in Romans we hear that “The whole creation has been groaning” for God to come and make things new. And while Advent as a liturgical practice is distinctly Christian, my students remind me that the sense of longing for justice, mercy, love, and, yes, even judgement- is common to all people. I can see it in the eyes of my Filipino colleagues whose homes have been destroyed, in the hands of the homeless dropping by my church for food, and the cries of the Ukrainian students I see on the news.
What the singer in the chapel last week called “love,” we Christians call “Jesus,” “Messiah,” “Holy One.” It is not often in our culture that we’re given permission to say “no” to the myth of progress, to proclaim loudly that this is not the home we’re made for, that we as a people have messed up and only Another can free us from ourselves. So in this second week of Advent we stop. We look around at our neighbours of all traditions and walks of life. And we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!”