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About once every 6 or 7 years, we have a situation like this – the Fourth Sunday of Advent is also Christmas Eve! In lots of ways, that makes life a pain for pastors, musicians and especially the Altar Guild…
It also means that very few people are going to show up at the morning Advent service. So why hold this service at all? Why not just cancel Advent 4 in years like this and move on to Christmas?
I gotta admit, it’s tempting! But on the other hand, there is something unique and meaningful about gathering together this morning to celebrate waiting for Christmas – a day that’s already sort of here, and but not quite yet.
After all, even though the paraments are still blue, it looks like Christmas around here. It feels like Christmas already. And there’s a sense of expectation that something really big and wonderful is about to happen.
THAT is really what Advent is supposed to be for us. It’s not just marking time and place while we wait for Christmas to get here again. It’s actually about living every day with the sense and the expectation that God is about to do something really big and wonderful in our lives. It’s about living every day with the certain hope that what we’re waiting for really is going to get here. It’s about living every day with the understanding that we’re already living into the future that God is preparing, even though we’re not totally there yet.
It’s often hard to live and feel that in a regular Advent season. But maybe today is different, because we all have a sense of living right on the cusp of a new day and a new experience. We’re already there. But not quite yet.
Often, we understand that intellectually, but we don’t really live it. Yes, we say, Jesus will come again. But that could be millennia away, and so we don’t live with the expectation that Jesus will also be coming into our lives in some significant way later today. Yes, we say, we hope for a time when God’s love and presence will bring peace and hope. But we don’t really expect to see tangible signs of God’s peace and presence later this afternoon. Yes, we say, God will make all things new. But we really don’t expect that God will be using each one of us in the next day or two to begin or continue that process.
But in fact, God is already doing those things, and we’re already living into them. We’re just not fully there yet.
Advent calls us to that “already/not yet” paradox of living. And so it is that in today’s Gospel reading, Gabriel announces to Mary that she’ll bear the Messiah. It’s already happening in Mary’s life, although she can’t yet see all that that will mean.
And in first John we read that “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” (1 John 3:2)
In one sense, we’re already there. But in another sense, not quite yet. That’s the life we’re called to as Christians. And it’s one of the most important aspects to Advent.
And sometimes, when we have a day like today, when it’s both Advent and Christmas Eve on the same day, we get an actual taste of what that kind of life looks like and feels like. We live with a real sense of expectation that God is about to do something big and wonderful with us. And we can live more fully into the hope to which we’ve been called.