While the world is already busy celebrating “Christmas,” the Church waits for Christ’s advent.
My sister could never wait for Christmas. She was the baby, so she always got her way – despite my disapproval as the elder brother and self-appointed guardian of “family tradition.” Opening presents on Christmas Eve after the evening service evolved into opening them before . . . and then to before lunch. One year, I think we opened some on December 23rd. Some years later, my own hypocrisy and impatience were exposed when a certain ring burned a hole in my pocket, and I caved, and I gave my then-girlfriend-now-wife her present three days before Christmas.
No one likes to wait. Waiting is surrender to someone else’s timeline.
We structure our time by our whims. Certainly, there are demands made of us and our time that we must honor. Certainly, there are circumstances that limit the control we have over our own time. Yet even the busiest among us – even those of us who are chained to schedules and alarms and calendars – reserve our right to make final decisions about how we structure our time. The world around us can offer its input, we can look to the norms of others, but ultimately, we turn up the Christmas music in October if we feel like it! (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
God’s time is not our time. It is not our time in the same way that God’s ways are not our ways nor his thoughts our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) The emphasis in Scripture is not so much that God is timeless – that God stands impervious and indifferent to time. God reigns over time.
For us who serve Jesus as Lord, we acknowledge his complete Lordship over “our” time. Jesus is not simply one more demand placed on our schedules; it’s even wrong to say he’s the most important demand on our schedule. God has bought all of our time for a price, the price of his beloved Son, just as God has bought our very souls. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
The Church Year is our reminder that God is sovereign over time, that we should make “the best use” of our time (Ephesians 5:16) in a walk of holiness, and, ultimately, that God has redeemed our time through Jesus Christ. This is why the Church Year is shaped by the life of Christ himself. From birth to burial to resurrection to reign, every day of the Church Calendar is meant to fix our present eyes on the historic works of Christ so that we see him shining in eternal glory. Following the Church Year means repentance and surrender.
Advent (“coming”) is the Church’s time of penitential, hopeful waiting for God to fulfill God’s promises in Jesus Christ at the right time, his time. (Romans 5:6) It starts the Church Year as a reminder of how the faithful of Israel surrendered to God while waiting in hope for the Messiah. It is a reminder that, even today, we are eagerly waiting for Christ’s return. “Surely, he is coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)