By Terence Chandra
A month before the birth of our first child, my wife and I were up to the same thing as any other young couple in a comparable situation: doing the best we could to ready ourselves for the catastrophic disruption that inevitably comes with the arrival of a baby. Piles of baby clothes were steadily accumulating in a half-painted room on the corner of the century-old rectory where we lived — a room that would one day become the nursery. In that same room, a crib lay half-assembled, right next to a gym bag stuffed with a few water bottles, books, a change of clothes, and other assorted paraphernalia necessary for a hasty, midnight flight to the hospital. I felt vaguely ready. It wasn’t, however, until my brother-in-law and his wife showed up one Saturday afternoon with their two-month-old boy and a request to babysit that I truly began to experience the reality that would inevitably become my life.
I vividly recall pacing around the kitchen with my newborn nephew, Griffen, trying to convince him to stop wailing. Remembering a parenting book I had read months earlier, I finally settled on a technique. I turned on the kitchen fan, creating a dull background of white noise that newborns are supposed to find soothing. Then I sat down, lay his tiny body across my forearms, and cradled his head in my open palms, rocking him to the right and to the left on my knees as his crying gradually abated. As he lay there contentedly, I gazed into my nephew’s blue eyes — at first bright and alert — but eventually clouded and distant as he drifted into a deep sleep. As he slept, it finally began to dawn on me that this is what life was going to be like when our baby was finally born: the frustrating hours I would spend trying to settle him down; the blissful reward of finally looking down into his slumbering face. No, my son was not here yet. But I was experiencing through my nephew a foretaste of fatherhood, months in advance of my son’s arrival.
This, I believe, is the Advent experience: Readying ourselves for the coming of God’s kingdom by practicing its ways, and doing so with such intention and purpose that we begin to catch glimpses of it here and now, as if the façade of reality is already beginning to crumble and a new and delightful world is beginning to shine — here and there — amid the cracks.
References to the coming kingdom of God are diffused throughout the whole of the New Testament witness, coming to us in forms that are varied and vivid: the householder who goes on a journey, leaving his servants with responsibility for his estate and the promise of his eventual, albeit unspecified, return (Mark 13:34); the bridegroom who is delayed in his coming, catching the bridesmaids off-guard (Matt. 25:1-12); and what is to me the most disturbing and ominous of all, the stealthy thief slipping unseen in the quiet hours of the night to pilfer the treasures of a slumbering homeowner. “Behold,” the Lord says, “I am coming like a thief” (Rev. 16:15).
All of these word pictures are meant to evoke one powerful thought: the urgent need for readiness. The disciple of Jesus is to “be on guard” (Luke 21:34), “be ready” (Matt. 24:43), “keep alert” and “keep awake” (Mark 13:32-37). Why? For the king — and with him, the kingdom — can descend at any moment, breaking in on our reality and transfiguring it forever.
This readiness is not a passive affair carried out by individual Christians, isolated from the broader mission and ministry of the Church. Rather, there is an active and a communal dimension to our readiness. “It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work,” Jesus says (Mark 13:34). We have work to do, given to us by the Lord. And, while that work may be ours, it is work carried out in communion with our fellow servants, all of whom labor within the household of faith.
Our work is to be a people of reconciliation — achieving that reconciliation through the trifold steps bestowed upon us by the king: gracious truth-telling, repentance, and forgiveness. Our work is to be a people who break bread together, sharing our substance with one another so that among us no one goes without. Together, as the people of God, we are to abstain from adultery (even in the imagination), disavow all vengeance, scorn acts of violence, and forsake worry entirely, trusting in our Father’s power and willingness to provide. We are to love our enemies, pray and fast in a manner that is both humble and sincere, reject the riches of this world, and store up treasures in heaven.
By living our lives in such a manner, we are most emphatically not hoping to bring about the kingdom of God by our own efforts — building the New Jerusalem, brick by brick, by the labor of our own hands. Rather, we are readying ourselves to receive the kingdom that only God can bring, aligning ourselves with its ways and customs here and now, in advance of its arrival. As we strive for the life of the kingdom, it will begin to manifest itself among us — not only before our eyes, but before the eyes of a watching world. As John Howard Yoder puts it, “The people of God is called to be today what the world is called to be ultimately” (Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community before the Watching World).
For this reason, it would be a mistake to consider the kingdom of God as something limited strictly to the end of time. Although the promise of Christ’s coming is future-oriented, there is a sense in which the reign of Christ manifests itself here and now in the present — an idea that is well captured in the Lord’s statement, “the kingdom of heaven is among you” (Luke 17:21). When Jesus restored sight to the blind, raised the crippled to walk, and brought the dead to life, we glimpsed the kingdom of God, a kingdom of wholeness and life. When Jesus was raised from the dead, we witnessed the first fruits of the resurrection. When the Holy Spirit of God was poured upon the Church — coming in a rush of wind, descending in tongues of fire — the astonished crowds were treated to a glimpse of God’s kingdom: an end to the divisions of Babel, drawing the whole human family into one. Finally, as the Church, empowered by the Spirit, began and continues to live by the ways and customs of Christ, the world begins to catch a glimpse of another kind of world — another kind of economy, another way of being human.
This is what true Advent readiness looks like: the people of Christ living the way of Christ together, waiting for the kingdom to come, and manifesting it here and now.
The Rev. Terence Chandra serves with his wife, the Rev. Jasmine Chandra, in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. They are both community priests at Stone Church, an Anglican Church based in the urban core of their city. You may follow their ministry at Pennies and Sparrows.