An Advent Message from Bishop LaTrelle Easterling
“Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”
This is the opening stanza of "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus," one of my favorite hymns, which is usually only included in liturgy during the Advent season. It offers a beautiful and harmonious melody, and the words invite us into a season of preparation and waiting.
During Advent, we are called to wait. The word Advent comes from the Latin verb advenire, which means, "to come toward, to draw near, to approach." During these four weeks of Advent, we remember and celebrate God's getting proximate with humanity in the incarnated infant, but also the promise of his second coming. In Christ’s second coming we have the promise of the fulfillment of the kingdom of God, and final victory over evil.
In our churches we hang festive greens and celebrate by lighting the Advent candles. Each element of the wreath provides rich symbolism for our understanding and remembrance. The circular wreath demonstrates the eternal, unending love of God, and the evergreens evidence eternal life. Four of the candles represent the virtues experienced in Christ: hope, joy, love and peace, while the fifth candle is the Christ candle, the very center of our being. The light of each candle reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the World.
We may only sing our Advent hymns during this season, but as with any celebration, the poignancy and deeper meanings are lost if we only recognize them once a year. The hope, joy, love and peace that we celebrate now is our longed-for hope, but also our present witness to the world.
As John the Baptist made clear, he was a witness to the Light of Christ. John understood that his life was a testimony to the truth and promise of the coming Messiah. As Christ-followers, we are also called to be witnesses to the same. We are called to not only believe but to testify to that Light; the hope, joy, love and peace, which is ours through Christ. Do our lives offer such testimony absent words?
When our children were younger we would ask them a question as they prepared to leave every morning for school. Just before leaving the house we would ask, “Whom do you represent?” They understood the only correct answer was, “God and my parents.”
This was our way of trying to remind them that their actions didn’t just reflect upon them, but upon the communities to which they belonged. Although that question did not make them perfect, we’d like to think it did help them avoid major trouble. But even more importantly, we believe it planted a seed within them that their confession of faith in God was more than mere lip service. That confession required a daily commitment to live Christ-like lives.
As we reflect upon the promise of this Advent season, may we also ask ourselves, “Whom do I represent?” What testimony does my life offer? Am I a witness of the Light? Do I live as a person full of hope, joy, love and peace? Even as the world grows more and more divided and rancorous, do I live as a witness to the present and coming kingdom of God? As we experience the Messiah during our contemplative meditation, may we continue to be conformed and transformed into his likeness. May we represent God well.
The second and final stanza of that great hymn states: “Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring. By thine own eternal spirit, rule in all our hearts alone; by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.”
May it be so during these days of Advent and every day.