The Christian liturgical calendar plays with time. Each Advent, we place ourselves in a space of waiting and anticipating an event that has already happened in a particular moment of historical time—the birth of Jesus. At the same time, we place ourselves in a space of waiting and anticipating another arrival that is yet to come—Jesus Christ’s coming again to our world in time and space. God has come, God will come again, and God comes to us now. Advent is a time of waiting and watching for all of these arrivals.
Advent is a reminder to be alert and ready as we wait for God to come. Part of this watchfulness is looking closely at what is happening around us. In the Gospels, Jesus tells off the crowds following him for being able to accurately predict the weather by keeping a close eye on the sky, while being unable or unwilling to accurately discern what is happening right in front of them: “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (Luke 12:56).
One of only two references in the Gospels to Jesus crying immediately follows the jubilant euphoria of his ‘triumphal entry’ into the city of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We are told that as he drew nearer to the city, Jesus started weeping, saying, “If you… had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes… you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:42-44).
Will we recognize the time when God comes to us? How might God come?
Being ready means watching for God in the places where God normally hangs out. Those places shouldn’t be surprising to us by now, but somehow we seem to need constant reminders that God always chooses to arrive in the least likely places. Who would expect God to come in the womb of a teenage girl who can’t tell her story because no one would believe her? Who would expect to find God sleeping on the streets in a feed trough for livestock? Or crossing the border as a political refugee and undocumented migrant?
Will we recognize God when God comes to us? In those who have been forgotten, abused, silenced, ignored, who experience systemic injustice?
Advent asks us to be ready because the moment might be now. If you had only known what would bring you peace—but you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you. May we have eyes to see the truth of who is in front of us. May we not miss the moment when God comes.