Advent: Does God Even Exist?
Is there a God at all? This is the Advent question.
In this season, we come face to face with darkness and we are reminded of our need for a Savior. “Welcome to the darkness” sings The Brilliance in their new captivating album. To flee from darkness and mask it with cheap joy can only further us into the depths of where we fear to go. The darkness is where we are confronted once again with the question “Does God even exist?” To see the world for what it really is can only lead us to the questions:
Why is their injustice and corruption?
Why is there sickness and disease?
Why is their violence?
Why do bad things happen to people?
While the world is also full of life, beauty, and wonder, to ignore the darkness ignores half of the painting. To truly see the entire painting can only lead us to a state of longing, waiting, looking, and praying for a God to come and come soon. And this is tension of the now and not yet. While God is here, present, working, saving, and loving, we still wait and anticipate for the Second Coming of Christ where all of darkness will be wiped away. Every tear. Every pain. Every injustice. Every corruption. Every violent tendency. Where we will be in complete oneness with him. No one really knows what this means, looks like, or when this will actually happen, but this is the hope of the Christian faith. We must have hope that things will be better.
The darkness is where we find God. The darkness is where we find ourselves. You can’t have light without darkness and you can’t have faith without fear. In the darkness we find our insecurities. In the darkness we find our prejudices. In the darkness we come to terms with the masks that we wear daily to protect ourselves from fear and pain. To fully embrace our reality means we are choosing to walk with God where he/she is at work in our lives and in the world.
Advent is the only season that continues throughout the liturgical year because it’s a present state of looking into the future and living in the hope of Jesus’ Second Coming. While Advent is a season that places us in the Old Testament prophecies and reality of the incarnate Christ promised, we are forced to engage with our present realities more than ever. In the depths of our own darkness and the darkness of others, we must find ourselves asking the question, “Does God even exist?” We must re-ground ourselves in this longing question if we are to be impacted by the power of redemption.
While the culture of Christmas invades the message of Advent, we must actively remind ourselves that Christmas is not until December 25th, and the ethos of Advent spiritually prepares and forms us as a desperate people in need of a saving Christ. This is why the Church emphasizes the season of Advent in worship. It pulls us out of pre-mature Christmas, and reminds us that we need Jesus.
Malachi says that the coming of the Lord will lift the curse of the world, and this is true for the Second Coming as well. Jesus began his work of lifting that curse and now the Church has an opportunity in partnering with this mission until He returns once and for all to make all things new. We can bring heaven to earth by bringing the Gospel message of love to all people. Not just with our words, but how we shape our lives to model the nature of Jesus. We are living in constant Advent and while we remind ourselves of our own need of a Savior, our response can only be to help others see their need too. This is the beginning of joy, because there is a promise of redemption on the horizon.
2 Peter 3:11-13 says, “Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”
Flemming Rutledge calls Advent the once and future coming of Christ. She says, “Advent calls for a life lived on the edge, so to speak, all the time, shaped by the cross not only on Good Friday but wherever and whenever we are, proclaiming his death to be the turn of the ages ‘until he comes’ (1 Cor. 11:26).” She continues, “the Christian community lives in Advent all the time. It can well be called the Time Between, because the people of God live in the time between the first coming of Christ, incognito in the stable of Bethlehem, and his second coming, in glory, to judge the living and the dead.”
Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year and it is evident that we begin in longing, waiting, and listening. For reference, Rutledge unpacks the liturgical year nicely here:
Advent – the anticipation of the First Coming (and Second Coming)
Christmas – Jesus’ incarnation
Epiphany – the manifestation to the Gentiles
The Season after Epiphany – Jesus’ ministry and preaching
Lent – Jesus’ path to crucifixion
Holy Week – Jesus’ passion and death
Easter – Jesus’ resurrection
Ascension – Jesus’ return to the Father’s right hand
Pentecost – the descent of the Holy Spirit
Ordinary Time – the disciples of Christ living out the mission of love
Advent begins the journey of a life embodied in the nature of Jesus, the one who was, who is and is to come. Sister Joan Chittister says, “Advent is about learning to wait. It is about not having to know exactly what is coming tomorrow, only that whatever it is, it is of the essence of sanctification for us,” she continues, “We learn in Advent to stay in the present, knowing that only the present well lived can possibly lead us to the fullness of life.” We begin this season in waiting. We begin this season in darkness. We begin this season in asking “Does God even exist?” We begin this season in hope for a better world, a perfect kingdom. We begin this season in patience.
Patience is part of the Christian suffering, because while we may never experience the Second Coming in our lifetime, we must press on with the hope that while darkness appears to reign, this appearance is only temporary, because the kingdom of God is at hand. Ram Dass calls suffering “grace,” because in the midst of our suffering we can become aware of the presence and Spirit of God working in us and around us. This awareness is grace.
Flemming Rutledge says, “The Christian hope is founded in the promise of God that all things will be made new according to his righteousness.” She continues, “Advent faces into death and looks beyond it to the coming judgment of God upon all that deceives, twists, undermines, pollutes, contaminates, and kills his beloved creation. There can be no community of the resurrection without the conquest of death and the consummation of the kingdom of God. “
Isaiah 65:17 says “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.”
Revelation 22:12-13 says “Behold, I am coming soon!...I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”
We have the promise of God, and this is our hope in darkness. Advent reminds the Church of earth’s current state (our current state), and it calls us to go into the midst of darkness where God is already at work. While we remember, stop, wait, listen, and anticipate with patience, we then can move into the Gospel work of Jesus. This is how the Church actively waits, knowing our work can never match the full redemption of Christ, but knowing our work still helps people see Jesus and experience love, a sort of heavenly experience, while living in present time.
After we travel through the darkness of Advent, we then come the symbolic day of Jesus in a manager in Bethlehem called Christmas. This is the “joyful joyful we adore thee” moment. This is “joy to the world.” This is the call “O come all ye faithful.” This day seals our hope in the Second Coming because we remember the fulfillment of the promise of the First Coming. This is what fuels the Church to do the work of Jesus. We are a people of Advent, longing and waiting for the Jesus to return, while pressing on in love for the world to know that all is not lost. He will come again to make all things new.