And just like that, it’s Advent again.
On the church calendar, Advent’s the four Sundays before Christmas, the countdown to the big day. No, wait, that’s wrong: it’s the count up to the big day.
That’s the great thing about Advent. Whether you begin on the first Sunday and go by the Sundays, like the candles on an Advent wreath, or have an Advent calendar that begins with the first day of December, Christmas is the culmination of days of preparation and anticipation.
Advent’s the beginning of the church year for many christians. It doesn’t match our calendar year because it’s not chronological. The church year doesn’t mark the passing of time, but rather the telling of a story, the meaning of which is, in many ways, timeless. That means we can start the year with these weeks of looking forward, a time of getting ready for the story of Jesus to begin.
On the first Sunday of Advent, we’re going to reach way back to do that, back to the prophet Jeremiah. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David.” The days are coming - the word advent comes from the Latin word for “coming” - when a new branch will appear on David’s family tree, a branch that will be right and good.
Jeremiah offered hope that righteous descendant of David was coming. With Jesus, many believed that hope was fulfilled. But hope doesn’t just end. Hope lives because hope is life. Hope isn’t casual, wishful thinking, but the certainty that we are not alone, that we are part of this great oneness of spirit which is in creation, that we are connected to each other by it and enlivened by it. It is much greater than just one moment.
As is Jesus. Jesus promised to return and his early followers believed that to mean the imminent return of this divine person they had just meant. When they didn’t happen, it became more like Jeremiah’s words: that day will come, one day. But they missed the possibility that Jesus - that spirit both divine and human - was alive in all of us, always. Jesus is always here, appearing in moments we least expect it. The days that are coming are everyday.
Jesus told them to watch for signs, many of which were about the destruction of this world. The “end times” were necessary for the new to arrive. But he also offered an image fitting a branch of David’s family tree. He said, look at trees: when they have buds on them, and leaves, you know that spring is here and summer is coming. It’s a sign.
Right now, we see only barren trees, cold temperatures, snow on the ground and shorter days. It may feel like winter in other ways, too. But there will be a time when those trees will have leaves again and grow bigger and stronger. Right now, they’re waiting, getting ready to return, but the days are surely coming.