Contributor: Drew Jackson





The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light… (Matt 4:16) This is the hope of Advent, the expectation that light will come and quell the darkness. Although we have seen a great light in Jesus, our world still suffers from the darkness. So the world waits. We wait. But how should we wait? Should we even be waiting?

The Advent season is situated at the point of the year when darkness seems to be the norm; the days are shorter, and nights are longer. While we wait for the light of truth and justice to completely push out the darkness, we wrestle with the current reality of the darkness we live in. We do not have to look far to see the dark clouds of injustice, racism, corruption, and violence that hang over our world, our nation, and our cities. Advent reminds us that things are not yet as they should be. Black men and women still live under the threat of police brutality and mass incarceration. Latino families are still stripped of their human dignity by being profiled as “illegals,” consequently being forced to live with the fear of deportation. Native American men, women, and children are still denied the right to live in their own home. How are we supposed to have hope-filled and expectant waiting when the darkness is so thick and the pain so potent? How do we embrace Advent in the midst of such brokenness?

THE WAITING OF ADVENT IS CAPTURED WELL IN THE STORY OF SIMEON (LUKE 2:22-35).

We would all do well to learn from his example. Simeon, presumably an elderly man, is said to have spent his years “waiting for the consolation of Israel.” The word “consolation” simply means comfort. In speaking of Simeon’s longing for comfort, Luke desires to point his readers back to Isaiah 40 where God, through the prophet, speaks these words to a people in exile:

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. {Isaiah 40:2}

Simeon, a picture of Israel, has been waiting for many years for comfort to arrive, for exile to end, for warfare to be over, for violence to cease, and for oppression to be no more. Israel’s history was that of being an oppressed ethnic minority, with slavery and exile characterizing its story. Even in Simeon’s day Israel lived under the oppression of the Roman Empire. Although there were some who had returned to the land of Israel, no one would claim that exile had ended. On top of this reality, God had not spoken through a prophet to Israel for over 400 years! An oppressed people also felt as though they were an abandoned people. Simeon was a man known for his deep and painful longing. He longed for things to change and for God to break in. He longed for justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream (Amos 5:24). He longed for God to speak.

THE QUESTION FOR US THIS ADVENT SEASON IS: WHAT ARE WE LONGING FOR?

Advent reminds us every year that we are to be a people known by our longing for God to break in and do something. As the church, we cannot be a people who are content with maintaining the status quo of racism, cultural supremacy, and ethnocentrism. Simeon longed for God to rescue Israel from the darkness of sin, and for God to address systems of evil that shackled the world. Is this our longing?

In the midst of Simeon’s longing, God spoke. Luke tells us that God revealed to Simeon that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah. Wrapped up in this one word were all the promises God had made to Israel; for it was in the Messiah that God would bring consolation, it was in the Messiah that God would bring shalom. There were, undoubtedly, many words being spoken to Simeon in the midst of his longing, words that were meant to determine how he would respond to the darkness pressing in on him. There were words spoken about the taking up of arms in order to violently resist Rome in face of oppression. There were words of apathy and indifference that moved people to live in denial of the reality of darkness. There were words of fatalism that resigned Israel to an existence of oppression and injustice, and had given up on God’s promise of rescue. The words being spoken in Simeon’s day are no different from the words that swirl around us. The temptation of violent retaliation against those whom we consider our “enemies” is ever present. The call to “colorblindness” is nothing more than the word of denial being spoken. However, we, like Simeon, have a word that has been spoken to us, the Word that was spoken and still speaks, the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us, the Word that promised to set the oppressed free and loose the chains of injustice, the Word that promised to make all things new!

WHAT WORD WILL WE BELIEVE? WHAT WORD WILL WE ALLOW TO SHAPE US IN OUR WAITING?

Advent calls us each year to remember and commemorate the First Advent of Christ, while we also renew our longing for his Second Advent. Simeon understood that he had a particular vocation to fulfill in his waiting: to make known when God showed up. By making it known, Simeon was bearing witness to a different story. Each year, Advent reminds us that we are to believe and bear witness to a different story, a story that does not end in injustice, a story not characterized by violence, a story in which consolation has come. Theologian Miroslav Volf says, “In Advent we wait, not lazily killing time, but busily preparing the world for the coming of the newborn king and the kingdom of his love.” When we bear witness to God’s story of salvation and justice, we “prepare the way of the Lord,” as Isaiah 40 goes on to say. This is why we speak out prophetically against racism. This is why we demand more just policing practices. This is why we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8); because we know that Jesus will come again to set the world to rights. To bear witness means that we are to testify to that which we have heard and seen to be true, namely, that Jesus is Lord. In doing so, we not only proclaim the Lordship of Jesus to be true with our mouths, but, with our life together as the Church, we nonviolently and actively resist anything that would seek to encroach upon the Kingdom of our Lord. So while we await Christ’s Second Advent, we live in light of what God has already done in Jesus, and in anticipation of what God will ultimately do. The work we do in our waiting is not in vain. Racism, injustice, and violence will not have the last word. This Advent season, let us embrace the coming Light. May we, like Dr. King, proclaim that we have seen the Promised Land, all the while knowing that darkness still lingers, and that there is still work to be done.