Advent+ : Anticipating God in the New Year

advent-plusNew Years is a special time to this blog o’ mine. I started writing in this space a couple years ago at the onset of my 4th semester of undergrad at ACU. Since then, my consistency has gone through several different phases, my ideas and understandings have grown and refined, and I’ve had the privilege of using this modest platform to reach and hopefully speak some meaning to a handful of people. So looking into the start of a new year, coming off the tail of some major changes both for me personally, and in the world at large, and still on the brink of more, I thought I’d revisit this weird, special time.

I’ve recommitted myself to many things many times over the years. Most recently I attempted to recommit to keeping up with people’s birthdays on Facebook (fail). I’ve recommitted several times to keeping a writing schedule on this blog (fail), running (fail), writing raps/poetry (fail), and getting new catchphrases to catch on for myself and others, like saying “ain’t that a bowl of beans?” instead of “that’s cool” (fail, and also fabricated just now. But wouldn’t that be a bowl of beans?).

And I’m not alone in this idea of recommitting to things, especially around the new year. New Year’s resolutions are the Star Wars prequels of holiday traditions: a few people are devout followers, many look down on them for whatever reason, and most everyone might agree they’re a good idea but suffer from often poor execution. And just like we all have to deal with the fact of Jar Jar, we’re likely all aware that the notion of resolutions isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

I’ve found that you can’t talk about New Years resolutions without some measure of futility. Every year the numbers are updated in this or that think piece about how many people make, break, and achieve their resolutions and why. And over and over, I’ve found that a common thread, aside from seriousness and dedication and accountability to peers, is simply expectation.

Do you actually envision for yourself that this time next year, you will be different if only for the fact that you accomplished this specific thing? Is there a pair of pants that you are planning to fit into and wear while writing your resolutions next year, if weight loss is your goal?

This seems to be the difference between making an actual resolution, and simply naming a desire; perhaps this is not totally dissimilar from the difference between wishing and hoping for something.

Anticipation seems to be the operative word, and with it, I’d put expectation.

That’s the poison of the realistic conversation revolving around resolutions: as we acknowledged that so many people don’t meet their goals, it also diminishes our own expectation of ourselves and our goals.

And I find this especially ironic for Christians, whose new years come right off the heels of Christmas and the season of Advent, which calls us to a posture of anticipation.

I’ve grown up in the Church of Christ my whole life, so celebrating and observing Advent is sort of a new thing for me, but I’m glad that the CoC tradition is starting to embrace this liturgical practice more and more. I was talking with a friend of mine who’s a Methodist while we were getting ready for Advent to start, and she was telling me about how her church is using all blue candles this year rather than the purple candles (and pink for joy) and how that really irked her.Then, on the Sunday that we lit the joy candle (which was her favorite), I took a pic and gleefully, informed her that a Church of Christ was winning at Advent over her Methodist church.

I like to believe that’s the sort of spirit that our church fathers and mothers envisioned when instituting Advent.

But in getting to explore this season of anticipation and dwelling in the themes of hope, love, joy, and peace, especially doing so with my students, I found the forms of Advent difficult to let go of, particularly when looking toward the new year.

And the thought occurred to me, what if anticipation and the associated expectation of God’s presence, God’s incarnation, that we focus on during Advent also became our frame for our new year?

What if instead of choosing something familiar or arguably trivial to set our sights on in the coming year, we looked to the truth that Advent promises us: that God comes into our lives in unexpected ways, and does so bearing hope, love, joy, and peace for all people.

What if this was the year we expected God to show up?

And I often semi-jokingly remind my students that asking for God to show up is a bold and even perhaps stupid thing to do, because when we see God show up in the Bible 2 things usually happen: 1) God does show up, and in a freaky way and 2) People freak the heck out in response. Burning bushes, flaming pillars, talking donkeys, angels that look less like Cupid and more like floating eyes with too many wings. That’s serious business, friends.

But still, what if we went into 2017 ready for that incarnate presence of God living and moving in the world? What if we didn’t just expect for God to be on the throne, but for God to be in the world, too? And what if we framed it using the same themes as Advent, setting ourselves up to anticipate God?

What is your hope in 2017?

What will love look like?

What will you take joy in?

What will bring you peace? Who will you make peace with?

These are the patterns and postures I’ve learned for anticipating the coming of the Divine into the world. But I think that they’d also be helpful in preparing us to be receptive to God’s living in us and working through us. Perhaps this might prepare our eyes to see better and ears to hear better where God is bringing order out of the chaos and love out of discontent.

Perhaps this is the year we actively and gleefully anticipate God showing up in the world.

Maybe we should prepare to be freaked out.

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