Advent — Already but Not Yet

A little warning… The substance of what I am about to articulate was judged by a newspaper for which I was asked to write a Christmas article in the religion section some years ago (which will remain nameless) to be so much “jibberish” and “Christian double talk” and “gobledygook.” For some, it may sound like nothing more than that. So be it… But, I persist in my “jibberish” undeterred because I tesify that what I am about to say, though my language may be clumsy, has consistently been transforming my life since I was 11 years old, serving as an acolyte at the Christmas eve service when I began to realize what the heck was going on in the Advent/Christmas season and the services of it, in 1962 ! ! So, here goes…

Advent WreathAs we enter the Advent season is important to allow ourselves to be reminded of the “already but not yet” character of our life as Christians who are “in this world but not of it.” Why would this reminder be important at this point in particular? Well, as we begin our pilgrimage toward the celebration of the Nativity, the Church is inviting us to effectively (really) participate in an event that occurred almost 2000 years ago – “already.” And, the Church is inviting us to effectively (really) participate in an event that has “not yet” occurred – the second coming of Christ Jesus. This would sound very strange from a point of view that holds that effective participation in an event is limited to things that occur in the present. But, the Church has never, in its authentic expression, held this view of time or participation.

I place these time words in quotes to signal the fact that the Church believes that time is relative in relationship with the Kingdom of God. (Sorry Einstein, the Church Fathers sort of knew about relativity before you did :o) ). I do not mean that chronological time (historical timeline) is not real but rather that kairos time (Kingdom time) surrounds, fulfils, and transcends all chronological time. Chronos is not a reality alongside kairos but inside of it and filled with it. Karios “abides” in “chromos” and vice versa. Mutual indwelling.

I have been asked by many people who desire to enjoy ongoing transformation in Christ, “how” to do so. Advent is an prime example of a basic “how.” That how is seasonality. When we embrace in an intentional way, the rhythms of Advent and its seasonal emphasis, we open ourselves to the integration of the very rhythms of the life of Christ Jesus. Advent is, therefore, not a season that offers us more information about Christ Jesus or an opportunity to “remember” and “look forward” to distant events. No. The Holy Spirit, through Advent, offers us the opportunity to be transformed into the likeness of Christ by encountering Christ Jesus as He is – past, present, and future.

Anyway, here are some Scriptural passages and a reflection by John Henry Newman that might help …

The witness of the lives of the Old Testament patricarchs and matriarchs

These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11.13-16

From the New Testament apostolic experience

Pray then like this: Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Matthew 6.9-13

For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13.9-13

From John Henty Newman

Our present state is precious as revealing to us, amid shadows and figures, the existence and attributes of Almighty God and his elect people: it is precious, because it enables us to hold intercourse with immortal souls who are on their trial as we are. It is momentous, as being the scene and means of our trial; but beyond this it has no claims upon us. Vanity of vanities,says the preacher, all is vanity.We may be poor or rich, young or old, honoured or slighted, and it ought to affect us no more, neither to elate us nor depress us, than if we were actors in a play, who know that the characters they represent are not their own, and that though they may appear to be superior one to another, to be kings or to be peasants, they are in reality all on a level. The one desire which should move us should be, first of all, that of seeing him face to face, who is now hid from us; and next of enjoying eternal and direct communion, in and through him, with our friends around us, whom at present we know only through the medium of sense, by precarious and partial channels, which give us little insight into their hearts.

These are suitable feelings toward this attractive but deceitful world. What have we to do with its gifts and honours, who, having been already baptized into the world to come, are no longer citizens of this? Why should we be anxious for a long life, or wealth, or credit, or comfort, who know that the next world will be every­thing which our hearts can wish, and that not in appearance only, but truly and everlastingly? Why should we rest in this world, when it is the token and promise of another? Why should we be content with its surface, instead of appropriating what is stored beneath it?

To those who live by faith, everything they see speaks of that future world; the very glories of nature, the sun, moon, and stars, and the richness and the beauty of the earth, are as types and figures witnessing and teaching the invisible things of God. All that we see is destined one day to burst forth into a heavenly bloom, and to be transfigured into immortal glory. Heaven at present is out of sight, but in due time, as snow melts and discovers what it lay upon, so will this visible creation fade away before those greater splendours which are behind it, and on which at present it depends. In that day shadows will retire, and the substance show itself. The sun will grow pale and be lost in the sky, but it will be before the radiance of him whom it does but image, the Sun of Righteousness, with healing on his wings, who will come forth in visible form, as a bridegroom out of his chamber, while his perish­able type decays. The stars which surround it will be replaced by saints and angels circling his throne. Above and below, the cloud of the air, the trees of the field, the waters of the great deep will be found impregnated with the forms of everlasting spirits, the ser­vants of God which do his pleasure. And our own mortal bodies will then be found in like manner to contain within them an inner man, which will then receive its due proportions, as the soul’s harmonious organ, instead of that gross mass of flesh and blood which sight and touch are sensible of. For this glorious manifesta­tion the whole creation is at present in travail, earnestly desiring that it may be accomplished in its season

These are thoughts to make us eagerly and devoutly say, ‘Come, Lord Jesus,to end the time of waiting, of darkness, of turbulence, of disputing, of sorrow, of care.’ Ven. J.H. Newman, Parochial & Plain Sermons, IV, 222-224; Word in Season VIII.

As I indicated in a previous post on C.S. Lewis’ essay, “The Weight of Glory,”

“The encounter with the mysterious fullness of anything is always an ‘already but not yet.’ We cannot, then ‘locate God’ as a thing. He along with persons and the creation itself remains a mystery.”

The Incarnation of our Lord and His second coming is the mystery of the “already but not yet” character of how God has/is/will accomplishing(ed) our salvation. We, along with St. Paul must, mysteriously proclaim that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we hope to be saved. Advent is a wonderful opportunity to continue our “boot camp” training regime in how to live in the Kingdom of God into which we have already entered. We are already citizens of the Kingdom, we seek to live more and more fully in the Kingdom and according to it right here and right now, even though we also live in the midst of the remnants of the old world – the fallen world – that is also real.

“Already but not yet.”

Fr. Thomas


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