First Sunday of Advent, 2015: Which world?


Here we are again, in that strange cultural space between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some still have leftover turkey in the fridge. Some are recovering from Black Friday shopping, or gearing up for Cyber Monday.

And every year, I hear people complain about how the Christmas season seems to start earlier and earlier. Decorative lights go up before Thanksgiving, and Christmas muzak takes over the malls. (Apparently, there are only so many times someone can hear Frosty the Snowman before feeling the urge to strangle someone.)

I haven’t heard much complaint, however, about the parallel expansion of Black Friday. First it was the addition of Cyber Monday. Then it was “Black Friday Week.” Now, especially in the online market, any date in November is up for grabs, with ads announcing “Black Friday all month” or even “Cyber Monday Tuesday, a week early” (I’m not making that up). It makes me wonder why anyone even bothers with words like “Friday” and “Monday” anymore, save to create the impression that the deals won’t last and you’d be a loser to miss them.

Into that mix comes a word with far less pop-cultural resonance: Advent. It sounds quaint, like some curious artifact of a dead religion.

Advent: the word means “arrival.” During the Advent season, in preparation for the celebration and commemoration of the birth of Jesus, we contemplate what it means for God to arrive in the flesh. To walk among us. To live, to die, to live again. And we look forward to a glorious future in which there will be yet another Advent.

But with the death and resurrection of Jesus, something else has dawned. It’s what Paul calls “new creation,” in which God is putting our sin-sick world aright: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17, CEB).

If anyone is in Christ? Paul isn’t suggesting this as an abstract possibility. He’s saying, Look around — new life is popping up everywhere! God is doing something new.

There is a sense in which Advent confronts us with a choice: which world will we live in? Black Friday, in its many forms, is something of a poster child for consumer culture. It’s not just about bargain hunting, but about desire and the role that consumer products play in our vision of the good life. It feels like a new day when we finally get a bigger, smarter TV, and we’re more excited about that than anything that Paul would recognize as new creation.

But, in fact, “the new is here.” Advent can be a time to reflect on that astounding claim, to take a step back from the taken-for-granted world of the Christmas shopping season, to look for the bursts of newness that signal the renewing presence of God’s Spirit.

Who knows what we might notice, if we would only take the time to look?