The Language of Advent

In blistering poverty, in the agony of childbirth, in the shadow of the doubt of men, in the brokenness of the cosmos, did Mary give birth to the Son of God. The deepest darkness that was caught under the spell of the heaviest curse found itself whispered into by the smallest of lights.

John came to yield a people prepared, but not before Zechariah would be silent for his doubt. His silence is the window through which one can see and understand the mood of the theological “grammar” of the Nativity. Holy men shall doubt and question and all shall be quiet as the prophets await their birth. Perhaps Zechariah’s silence was a gift rather than a punishment — perhaps his waiting was a rehearsal for the deeper waiting, the waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:38), for the consolation of Israel (Luke 2:25).

The utter strangeness of the Gospel has left us. The event of grace that was the incarnation of the Godman Jesus has no analogue in space-time apart from itself. It is indeed the standard by which all strangeness should be measured.

The heavenly host, the army of angels, comes to announce peace! God leaves his perfect wealth, he takes leave of his throne, he is pleased with men to dwell. What manner of response is merited by such news? Surely it will be found in the lesson of Advent, in the secret of his presence, in the hearth of God, in the sanctity of silence, in the home of waiting.

We can only begin with Advent, because Advent is a lens, even a test. It is language, that of God. It is a “period of waiting,” if one must be explicit. To speak of Advent in faith is to speak the language of human anticipation. It is to speak the language of God’s heart by voicing quietness. It is the speech of nothingness that goes loudly, and with heraldry, to God’s ears. The Spirit’s groaning on our behalf means that we have no requirement, no imperative, to rush before God in faith.

A quiet place is a gift, yet it is possible to be silent in the midst of utter chaos. In sickness and in health, Advent shows us that our silent meditation — on God’s Word and in the presence of the Spirit as we are embedded in our Union with Christ — is the life of faith. The bedrock of our sanctification is the silence of prayer, it is the living yearning for completion.

In Advent, grief and dejection, sorrow and pity, misery and depression, are welcome. Doubt and fear, anger and terror, are welcome. God will take hold of your spirit, crushed or joyful, and will bring you to his heart. His breath will renew you in the language of the expectant Israel, the watchmen of the night who cry out for daybreak.

As we watch for the light, we have the light which has visited us. We await the return of the Son, and yet, his light dwells within us, be it only a flicker, it is the seed of faith which has come to rescue us.

The benediction of Advent is the sovereign power of the Lord which overturned and will overturn the pattern of the world for his glory.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (Jude 24–25).”