Bishop Mark Hanson: Advent Readings Focus Us

We see more clearly the past, present and future

I received my first pair of glasses in high school. That first pair was for reading, but those that followed were bifocals, trifocals and now progressive lenses. Each pair was designed to improve my vision.

The Scripture readings for Advent give us a distinctive lens for viewing each other, our faith and the world.

In his letter to the Roman Christians, whom he had never met, the apostle Paul refers to God's promise as the lens for viewing each other. He suggests that the lens for viewing each other is "the gospel of God ... the gospel concerning his son ... Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all ... including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ" (Romans 1:1-7).

Whatever disappointments, suspicions or resentments they may have had about each other, when viewed through this lens, all are set aside.

For us, the gospel lens we are given in Advent is like the progressive lenses of trifocals. Through this lens, we see more clearly the past, present and future.

Advent is filled with memories. The gospel lens keeps us from turning our remembering into a nostalgic longing for a past that probably never existed, but creates a buffer against the changing realities and conflicts of the present.

If we seem to remember a past consensus on faith and doctrine, for instance, we may use the memory as a cold hard stone of judgment on the present.

The Advent readings from Matthew call us to remember that God is faithful to God's word of promise spoken of old and being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Memories are shared - not to escape the present but to draw us closer to one another in our shared life in Christ.

Our young adult children often recall fond memories of the family being together around the kitchen table, at a cabin, the eight of us crowded into a van on a trip. Such remembering is for the sake of being re-membered, re-joined in the bonds of our love as a family.

May your Advent remembering through the lens of the gospel provide occasions to be joined more deeply in the unity that is ours in Christ.

This same gospel lens provides a distinctive way to listen to and receive the witness of the Scriptures, always with the expectation that they will bring hope. Paul writes that "whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).

Think of our posture in Advent as standing on our tiptoes leaning into - looking into - God's promised future in hope. Advent reminds us that it is not for what we hope, but in whom we hope. This hope in Christ changes our perspective on both the future and the present.

In Christ, we view that future not through the lens of fear and foreboding but with a vision of God's promise fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

This Advent season, listen carefully to the Scriptures. Hear through them the messages of hope in Jesus Christ, the promise God makes. The Scriptures have fulfilled this purpose in you when the God of hope fills you with "all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).

When that purpose is accomplished in you - joy and peace in trusting God's promise, abounding in hope on account of the Spirit's power at work in you - then you are ready, prepared to live in this time. Viewing our present day through the lens of the gospel promise of Jesus Christ, we have the assurance that frees us to engage our present circumstances with charitable hearts and generous hands.

As you gather with sisters and brothers at the communion table this Advent, the Christ of memory and the Christ of hope is present with and for you. May the gospel of Jesus Christ become the lens through which God looks at you and through which we see one other and God's world.

[Taken with permission from The Lutheran magazine, December 2010. Visit the website of the ELCA.]