Happily, as faithful witnesses to Jesus, we have a meaningful alternative. According to the Church calendar, today is New Year’s Eve. That’s because tomorrow is New Year’s Day: the First Sunday of Advent.
“Advent” comes from the Latin word meaning “Coming.” In this season of the year, we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ.
We may think of his coming as taking place in a threefold manner. He came to us 2015 years ago as a baby born in Bethlehem. Soon he will come to us again in glory to judge and living and the dead and start his New Age of Conviviality that will never end. In the meantime, he comes to us today to share surprising words and unexpected adventures with us. He comes to us today to make his coming New Age present even now.
He comes to us today also in a threefold manner. To begin with, he comes to us today as individuals. He does this by speaking to us through words—words we think, hear from others, or read—as these are consistent with the words of the Bible. He also shares with us today signs of his presence. These in general are meaningful coincidences he uses to encourage our affirmation of his words. He comes to us through these miraculous words and signs always to free us from the conventional but false gods of Olympianity and for unexpected adventures with him.
Secondly, he comes to us today as participants in a Christian community. That community may be as small as one prophetic mission group of two people: ourselves and one other person. Two’s enough! “For where two or three come together in my name, I am with them” (Matthew 18:20, Good News Translation). Jesus Christ is on the move. Expect him to move you! Historical examples of dynamic churches that grew out of prophetic mission groups include the early Franciscans led by Francis of Assisi himself in the 1200s, early Anabaptists of the 1500s, and early Quakers of the 1600s.
Finally, Jesus comes to us today to initiate and sustain a societal movement of Christian individuals and communities. One recent example was the civil rights movement in the United States between 1954 and 1968.
One way we may meaningfully mark tomorrow as New Year’s Day is to make it the one day, each year, that we commit ourselves to participating in our existing mission group or church. In Christian Olympian churches, membership generally is a one-time decision: one chooses to join a church, one’s application is accepted without much ado, and that’s it. In truth, one’s meaningful participation in church as mission group, just as one’s meaningful participation in a relationship with Jesus Christ himself, is a daily decision. If we do not intentionally commit ourselves today to being free for Jesus, then we unintentionally devote ourselves to the gods. It’s that simple. Making the First Sunday of Advent—New Year’s Day—the one Sunday each year on which we intentionally commit ourselves to a particular mission group or church reminds us, in an important way, that we cannot take such participation for granted without draining it of meaning.
Advent is the season of hope. It is the season of the Church year in which we may again be intentional about living as witnesses to hope: our lively expectation that Jesus will be with us today as meaningfully as he was with us during his public ministry and will be again when he returns in glory. During this 33-day season, we get to remember ourselves as a people of joyful confidence in Jesus who is coming to us tomorrow with just those surprising words we need to respond with wholly unexpected creativity to the many challenges we face as individuals, churches, and societies. Now that’s good news!