By Doug Jackson
Spiritual director and blogger Rachel Twigg-Boyce, in a podcast prepared for the Anglican Church of Canada, recounts the conversation of a couple determined to have The Perfect Christmas. She reluctantly predicts disappointment for them and then contrasts this kind of preparation to the observance of Advent. She gives the nod to the latter: “During Advent,” she explains, “I’m not attempting to control an outcome. Rather, I’m preparing for something that I know will turn out in exactly the way it’s supposed to.” (You can hear the entire talk here.)
At the end of Advent, Christ comes. That’s a sure thing and the craziest gambler in Vegas wouldn’t quote you odds on a foreknown result. And, as the Gospels repeatedly point out, it was foreknown even before it happened the first time. So it’s like betting on the Sox in the 1919 World Series. . .again.
I find I need that kind of solidity, that kind of reassurance. As my increasing age accelerates the onslaught of the years, the stabilities and certainties of my world melt beneath me like polar icecaps. Dickens and Hallmark haunt me like the Ghost of Christmas Past. (“‘Long past?’ ‘No, your past.'” But it doesn’t really matter: the past remains equally inaccessible from a minute to a millennium.) They taunt me with shadows of something I can still see but no longer affect. I’ve disliked change since I was a kid, yet I was born into a time and a nation and a Christian denomination that seem determined to smash the mileposts of permanence like Ulrich Zwingli taking an axe to a pipe organ. Fine for Tennyson to dithyramb on about the glories of letting “the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.” Too often this not-so-great world seems to my bewildered and increasingly less-agile soul more like a pinball pinging off the ringing bunkers of chance.
But Advent reassures me. Advent will turn out exactly the way it’s supposed to: Christ will come.
He may not come, as he did not come the first time, in the way and at the place that my own reading of the Scripture leads me to expect. He may not come, as he did not come the first time, under the kind of circumstances my prejudices prefigure. He may not come, as he did not come the first time, in the form my selfish desires prefer. But he will come.
And so as Advent unwinds toward its certain climax I find myself saying along with Hamlet (in a different – or perhaps not so very different – sense):
If it be now,
’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all.
“The readiness is all.” Even so, Lord Jesus, come!
Doug Jackson is a preacher/professor/poet who after a quarter-century in the pastorate now teaches spiritual formation, pastoral ministry, and Greek for the Logsdon Seminary program at the South Texas School of Christian Studies in Corpus Christi. His collection of poetry, Nothing There is Not More from Finishing Line Press, will be published in February 2014 and is available for preorder now.