We have two conceptions of the future. One is how we normally think about the future. It is the time ahead of us. Although we don’t know what the future holds, we can predict the probability of events happening in the future by extrapolating the past and present. There are even scientists, called futurologists, who specialize in predicting the future based on current trends. This conception of the future gives us a sense of control over what is yet to happen.
The other conception of the future is advent, which means coming. We anticipate an event based on a prophetic promise. Advent is a surprise. It is not the continuation of time into the future; rather, it is the coming of the future into our present experience. It is an interruption. But advent is so discontinuous with our world and so unexpected that it more than a simple interruption that disturbs us and then allows us to return to our normal lives. Advent is an interruption that affects everything forever.
The danger of meditating on the coming of the Messiah through the first perspective of future is that we have a sense of what to expect. At the first Advent, everything was a surprise. Although there had been expectation for the Messiah, the way that he came was completely unexpected.
This is also the danger of anticipating Christmas every December 25th. We associate Advent with the cycle of the seasons. When it gets cold, we begin to expect Christmas. With its annual repetition, we get used to Advent. We get used to Magi, shepherds, and miraculous births. In a contradiction of terms, Advent becomes nostalgic.
But we can actively resist our tendency to turn Advent into a cyclical, foreseen future. We can try to bracket out the adult life of Jesus and the development of church theology as we read the early chapters of the Gospel narratives. We can ask ourselves what were they hoping for, how were their expectations fulfilled, how were expectations redefined, and how were they surprised?
We can also resist the temptation to control Advent by doing the unexpected or by doing something new, something different and something challenging. We can ask God for the grace to see the unexpected.
We can also reflect on Advent through the lens of the Second Advent. We have the prophetic promise that Jesus will come again. We don’t know when. We don’t know how. If his first coming is of any indication of his second coming, then I would postulate that we will be surprised by how unexpected Jesus’ glorious coming will be.
Although our waiting for the Second Advent is one of uncertainty, questioning and astonishment, we are also aware that the future of the kingdom of God is breaking into our present – even here and now. Our anticipation of God’s coming helps us to look for the signs of God’s kingdom in our midst. This may be Jesus’ invitation, given through the hungry, to the wealthy to be generous. It may be the praying, touching and healing of the sick by the Spirit. Or it may be the Father’s words and the Father’s presence communicated to you today. The signs of the kingdom of God cultivate our hope and make us long even more the fullness of his Advent. This is our future.