Do we need Advent more than Christmas?

Darko Bandic AP Nativity scene made of ice is seen in Graz, Austria, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011. The nativity scene … Continued

Darko Bandic


Nativity scene made of ice is seen in Graz, Austria, Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011. The nativity scene is hand-made by the ice sculptor Gert J. Hoedl and his international team. They have been doing it for the start of Advent every year since 1996, with variations in details, and claim it’s the biggest one in the world.

Hope is in short supply today. Yes, the latest unemployment numbers are a bit better and the Dow has been up recently, but I haven’t seen any massive outbreak of hope. Have you?

A new dawn of hope doesn’t appear to be on the horizon, either. Our national debt has grown so large that it’s almost incomprehensible. The European economy is more messed up than ours. The vaunted Arab Spring is looking more and more like a stepping stone for the advance of Islamist regimes, thus further destabilizing the Middle East. Iran will soon have the capacity to build nuclear weapons. Not much hope here.

In the last presidential election, we heard a lot about hope from candidate Obama. This time around, I doubt we’ll hear much of this from President Obama, or from his Republican rival either. Hope doesn’t play well in Peoria, or anywhere else for that matter.

What should we do when hope disappears? For millions of Americans in this season, the answer is simple: Shop! Black Friday boasted record numbers of shoppers as we Americans spent our way into the Christmas spirit. Why would so many people empty their wallets — or, more likely, run up their credit cards –in the midst of a bleak economy? According to a senior executive at Moody’s Investor’s service, “With consumers, it’s emotional, so they might feel they need Christmas this year.”

I’d like to suggest another possibility. Perhaps we need Advent this year. Why? Because Advent takes seriously the fact that our lives are not as they should be. Advent acknowledges that we need serious help. Advent promises that such help is on the way. Thus, Advent gives us a reason for hope.

What I’ve just said about Advent might be perplexing because, for most of us, Advent is only a blip on our seasonal radar. We might have an Advent calendar in our homes, with little doors that hide tiny treasures. Or we might hear about Advent in church, but mostly as a season to prepare for Christmas. Indeed, Advent is about getting ready to welcome the one born in a stable and laid in a manger. But we do this, in part, by paying attention to the pain in our lives and in our world. We acknowledge our need for a savior. We recognize that we need God’s help, not only to mend our lives, but also to put the world back together.

The Christian season of Advent remembers the first advent of Christ (from the Latin word adventus, for “coming” or “visit”). It helps us get ready to celebrate the birth of the savior who brings “peace on earth.” Yet Advent is also a time to remember that our world isn’t fully saved. Christians look forward to the second advent of Christ, when he restores the kingdom of God, when God’s justice and peace fill the earth.

In Advent, we renew our hope in the coming of God’s kingdom. Advent hope is not quite like ordinary hope, however. If I say, “I hope it snows tonight,” I usually mean, “I’d really like it to snow, and just maybe it will snow, but, really, I know it probably isn’t going to snow.” Hope often yearns in spite of evidence to the contrary. Advent hope, however, is more like a settled, confident conviction about the future. It is based on confidence in the God who did once come us as Jesus, and who will indeed come again to establish his kingdom. The season of Advent helps us wait for the next advent of Christ, and to do so with patience and joy.

Advent hope is fueled, not just by faith, but also by the traditions of the season. For example, during Advent, millions of Christians use a wreath with candles – the Advent wreath – to focus their attention and kindle their hope. As we light the candles around the wreath, we remember just how much we need God’s help and we rejoice because God has helped us in the past and will help us in the future.

Advent hope does not mean, however, that we simply sit around until God comes and mends our broken world. On the contrary, our experience of hope energizes us to live today as agents of the kingdom of God. Recognizing that human efforts will not make the kingdom come – that’s God’s business – we nevertheless strive to live according to kingdom values. Thus, Advent helps us to love others, to give generously, to seek justice, and to live hopefully each day.

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is Senior Advisor and Theologian in Residence of Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is the author of Discovering Advent, an ebook from the Patheos Press.

  • clifforddecker

    And just when did Hope become a Christian ideal?

    People who never heard of Chirst, or believe in the same, have hope.

    Just what is the Dr. trying to say when he writes that “Hope often yearns in spite of evidence to the contrary,” isn’t that what Hope is, that is, belief beyond what a person faces and sees and that is actual or tangible?

    Hope is not separate from faith.

    Are we to believe that Hope is cut and dried and like a bottle of good wine, and that there is nothing else?

  • morphex

    Shopping’s not so bad. Even if it isn’t deeply satisfying, it provides benefits for others and makes their lives better. Only a clergyman or a Marxist would knock it..

Read More Articles

Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

Hey Bart Ehrman, I’m Obsessed with Jesus, Too — But You’ve Got Him All Wrong

Why the debate over Jesus’ divinity matters.

Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.

How Passover Makes the Impossible Possible

When we place ourselves within the story, we can imagine new realities.

This Passover, We’re Standing at an Unparted Red Sea

We need to ask ourselves: What will be the future of the State of Israel — and what will it require of us?

Just As I Am

My childhood conversion to Christianity was only the first of many.

shutterstock_127731035 (1)
Are Single People the Lepers of Today’s Church?

In an age of rising singlehood, many churches are still focused on being family ministry centers.

Mysterious Tremors

People like me who have mystical experiences may be encountering some unknown Other. What can we learn about what that Other is?

Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing

That verse you keep quoting? It may not mean what you think it means.

What C.S. Lewis’ Marriage Can Tell Us About the Gay Marriage Controversy

Why “welcome and wanted” is a biblical response to gay and lesbian couples in evangelical churches.