I don’t know anyone who enjoys waiting. We do whatever we can to avoid it. We scrutinize each checkout line to predict which one will be the fastest. We speed up to make it through the yellow light so we don’t have to stop for the red. We use ATM machines, automated lanes, and Instant Messaging in hopes that we won’t need to wait. But try as we might, waiting is unavoidable. Christians are a people living in advent—an in-between time, a time of waiting. We live during the “here but not yet” period; the time of promises yet to be completely fulfilled. The time between Christ’s first and second coming.
So how are we to live during this waiting time? Was the birth of Christ, his life here on earth, his death, his resurrection, so very long ago that we treat it more like a children’s story or a quaint tradition? Have we waited so long that we no longer truly believe Christ is returning? Are Advent and Christmas a time of stress, with so many gifts to purchase, events to attend, and areas to decorate that we dread its coming? Or is it a time of wonder, a time to remember that our God chose to come as a child—weak, helpless and vulnerable—in order to save us? Do we feel a sense of fatalism, believing that nothing here on earth will ever change? Do we wait within our own Christian bubble like the Pharisees, so afraid of being impure that we turn our eyes away from those in need, and turn our backs rather than extend our hands? Is the “end times” simply good fodder for novels and apocalyptic movies?
Waiting in Worship
As worship leaders and planners, as pastors and musicians, how do you answer those questions? What does your worship say about this time of waiting?
Is your Advent worship so much about the coming Christ that it ignores our calling as Christians in this world? Or is it so focused on the here and now that it ignores the promise of the coming kingdom? Have you been able to maintain a healthy balance in a spiritual environment that tends to push us to one extreme or another? It is our hope that this issue of Reformed Worship will provide resources for worship that do not shy away from current realities. It’s our goal to examine the present in light of the past and future realities of Christ’s first and second comings. After all, our God came to earth and became human: he experienced hunger, thirst, weariness, loneliness, grief, and joy; he saw and responded to the needs of those around him; and he did it for you and me.
Addressing the Concerns of Our Day
Because we serve a God who walked among us, who befriended sinners and healed the sick, we can and ought to address the concerns of our day, both small and large. Because we know God desires each person to experience physical and spiritual wholeness, we have a message of hope for God’s people. Hope for those who suffer from AIDS or other illnesses. Hope for those who are orphaned and widowed. Hope for those who struggle with living holy lives sexually, physically, or emotionally. Hope for those who struggle with loneliness, depression, arrogance, or over-commitment.
As you plan worship for this coming Advent and Christmas, think about the overall message you will bring. Don’t shy away from naming the struggles facing your congregation and the larger global community. Consider dedicating a service to AIDS or some other global challenge and make sure that these needs are addressed in times of confession and pardon, in pastoral prayers, and in sermons. At the same time, challenge God’s people to be fully conscious of the reality of Christ’s first coming and the surety of his return.
We are a people of advent. We are a people of hope.