Advent is ambiguous. On the surface, it is ambiguous about what, exactly, is “coming” (which is what “advent” means). Is it Christmas that is coming? Or Christ in glory? That ambiguity can pretty much be solved by looking at the readings for the four Sundays in Advent: only one reading—Luke 1:39-45 (46-56), for the Fourth Sunday—takes place prior to Christ’s birth. The others are all after Christ’s birth. Advent, if we follow the lead of the readings, prepares us almost solely for Jesus to come to us in His Word and Sacraments, and for His revealing in glory at the end of time.
But there are other Advent ambiguities. These are mainly caused by the fact that we live in two realities. Advent is ambiguous for us because the Church is doing one thing while the world is doing pretty much the complete opposite. The Church is talking very little about Christmas, very little about the birth of Jesus, and the world is talking about nothing but “Christmas.” Of course, the world knows very little of the Mass of Christ, and even X-mas is an abbreviation for “Christ”-mas in Greek (CRISTOS). All that the world knows is parties, and buying and selling, and economies, and decorating, and eating (and dieting) and eating some more. It is not surprising, however, when people try to exclude any reference to “Christmas” from public spaces: they have realized that you cannot completely secularize the name. If you don’t want Christ, you must get rid of Christmas, as well as X-mas, as well as Advent.
We all live in that world. We cannot escape it. But at the same time, we enter another world on Sundays and Wednesdays (at least) during this month. We enter a world that moves according to another clock and another time. A world that does not revolve around remaining shopping days or our preparations. This world revolves around one thing—one Person: Jesus. The Gospel depends upon who is doing the verbs, who is acting. And in the Church, the primary and most significant Actor is God in His Son, Jesus. Other people doing other verbs are always secondary.
Advent’s ambiguity surrounds us because we live in both these worlds simultaneously, and because the division between these worlds runs throughout us. But there is nothing ambiguous about God’s acting in this world. He has acted decisively “in the fullness of time, sending forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law.” Our vision is blurred, our thoughts scurry, like holiday shoppers, from one thing to another; but God’s vision is clear: He has sent His Son, who has given Himself as the single sacrifice for all sins, everywhere, at all times. There is no more sacrifice for sin. And though the Son is hidden from our physical sight (causing ambiguity in the world), He is not ambiguous about where He will be found: in His Word and Sacraments. A promise is a promise, and if God is the promiser, there is nothing ambiguous about it.
This Advent, step out of the ambiguity of the world(s) in which you live; decorate slowly; read some Scripture and light candles on a wreath; gather with the people of God around His pulpit and altar; be where God’s promise in Christ is unambiguously for you; and know that since that first Christ-mass two thousand-plus years ago, there is absolutely no doubt that God, in His own good time, will put the long, tired Advent of this world to bed, and we will wake up in the light of the most glorious Christmas morning we have never imagined.
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”