If you were talking with a friend who was unfamiliar with Christianity, and they asked you to tell them the story of the Christian faith, where would you begin?
You might think it would make sense to begin with Jesus—his teachings, his ministry, his miracles and healings, and of course, his death and resurrection. One might go from there to talk about the disciples, the apostle Paul, and the formation of those first Christian communities. But then again, you might want to put Jesus’ life and teachings in context, so you might back up and give your friend a little background information about the hopes of the Jewish people in first century Palestine. You might explain to your friend that the Jewish people during that time were an occupied people, forced to embrace an occupied faith under the strong arm of the Roman Empire. And after so many years of exile and domination they longed desperately for a savior and messiah who would liberate them from their occupied existence.
Enter Jesus— hailed as the son of God, messiah, savior, and King of the Jews.
But you’re not done yet. Because at that point, you might find yourself needing to explain to your friend that the reason the Jews were expecting a king-like Messiah harkened back to the days when Israel was strongest and most prosperous—during the reign of King David, and they longed for a new king who could bring back the peace and prosperity of long ago. But of course David did not arrive on the scene without a story either, and so you might want to tell the story of how he became king, and how Israel itself came to be a monotheistic nation against the backdrop of all the pagan cultures around them. And in that case, you would need go back even further, to tell the stories of Joshua and the battle of Jericho; Moses and the exodus from Egypt; Jacob, Joseph, and all his jealous brothers; and all the way back to Abraham himself.
As it turns out, as much as many of us may like to focus most of our attention on the New Testament part of the story alone, the reality is, Christianity is in fact part of a much larger story— one that reaches back to the beginning of all things and continues on beyond what we can imagine. And as for us—well we’re actually smack dab in the middle of all of it.
Which brings us to where we are this morning on the first Sunday of Advent. At the heart of the season of Advent is this sense of waiting—this feeling of being in the middle of the story—watching and waiting in anticipation as it continues to unfold.I love this aspect of Advent, because it gives us a chance, before all the festivities and celebrations of Christmas itself, to pause, and consider our place in the story. Where do we find ourselves in the ongoing story of God’s people?
And if we’ve been tuning out recently because of our busyness, or our frantic push to get everything done before the end of the year, Advent is the perfect opportunity to tune back in—to reconnect with all of those ancient stories that remind us who we are, where we come from, and the things that are most important.
So the question is: where do you find yourself in the story this year? Perhaps you find yourself full of joyful anticipation as the holiday approaches. Perhaps, like Mary and Elizabeth, your heart is crying out with joy at the wondrous things God has done in your life. Or maybe you feel more like Joseph this time around—a little uncertain, a little doubtful, but hopeful that things will work out alright in the end. Or maybe you’re not one of the title characters this year. Maybe you identity more with the people on the sidelines—the shepherds on the margins of society—on the outside, looking in. Or like the Jewish people who have suffered defeat and exile more times than seems just or fair. Or maybe you find your place further back in the story—wandering in the desert like the early Israelites, dealing with resentment or jealousy like Joseph and his brothers, or even like Abraham himself—trying your best to follow God’s call despite not knowing where it will lead. Where do you find yourself in the ongoing story of God’s people?
As we reflect upon this question during the season of Advent, it is perhaps also important for us to remember that no matter where you find yourself this year, the story isn't over. There are more chapters still to unfold, more promises yet to be fulfilled, more light yet to be revealed to us. God’s not done yet. And so we watch and we wait in hope and anticipation to find out what the next chapter will be.
As we take time during the season of Advent to reflect upon our place in the story, may we also consider how the story of God’s love and light in the world might continue to be told— in our story and in our lives. For it is both a great gift and a great responsibility that we are now the body into which God’s light is born. We are now the carriers of that light from long ago, and we are in fact the authors of a continuing story. Where will we take it from here?