An Advent Message from the Dean
By The Right Reverend Clifton Daniel III
Recently I saw an article entitled “Walking Backwards into the Future.” I didn't read the article, but its title has stuck with me. I keep wondering how exactly one walks backwards into the future.
Advent and Christmas are all about past and future. For 2000 years or so Christians have been celebrating and looking back at the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. At the same time, we keep looking forward to Jesus’ second coming. Since we don't know what the second coming will be like - apart from the very dramatic images we see in the Gospels and in the Revelation of John - we can't look ahead to that future event. But we can look back to a point in time with a definite place and a documented event: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judea somewhere around 3 or 4 BCE.
A whole culture has grown up around remembering that birth, as well as many traditions. We put up creches in our homes and churches; bring in Christmas trees and decorations; sing any number of Christmas carols, cantatas, operas and even create popular music and literature. All refer to that specific event 2000 or so years ago. The trouble with fixating on that moment is that we can lose perspective and sink into sentimentality and irrelevance. Life never stands still. Life is always moving farther away from past events and into the future, as cloudy and undefined as it is. In a real sense we are always walking backwards since we can only see the past and yet we must continue to move into the future.
Advent looks to the past and to the birth that took place in Bethlehem. Advent (the word itself means “coming” or “future”) also bids us to have confidence in the future, dim as it may be.
The Gospel story tells of a Savior born, crucified, risen and alive today. We may not know what the future holds, but we can have confidence that the future is anchored in a secure place and in the person of Jesus Christ. We don't know what the future holds, but we know who the future holds because Jesus’ resurrection frees us from the tyranny of the past. We know that our future is built on the foundation of the love of God as expressed in Jesus Christ. With confidence in the promises of Jesus for our future, unknown as it is, we can indeed walk backwards into the future: looking backwards at what has been and with confidence in what will be. Jesus promises us that he will come again and take us to himself and that the whole creation will be made new. While we may have no idea of the what, or the when, or the how of the fulfilment of that promise, we can have the trust and the confidence that it will come to pass in God’s good time; and that we will be included in the culmination of God’s plan for the universe, our world and all people – past, present and future – and that includes you and me! That’s Good News and cause for celebration in this merry season!
A blessed Advent and a happy Christmastide to all!