That Which is To Come – Thoughts on Advent

For Christians, Advent is a time of expectation and anticipation, a time that we look toward a coming event.  The traditional scripture readings used in most churches for these four weeks leading up to Christmas point toward this expectation as hopeful anticipation of an event in which the structures of our world will be radically changed, turned upside down.  This hopeful anticipation involves waiting and desiring that which is to come.

But there’s a problem here.

In this particular Advent season many of us don’t feel all that hopeful; nor do we much feel like waiting.  Our political, social, and economic situations leave us desiring that which is to come–the promise of an event that might overturn our present conditions.  Hate crimes are on the rise; the divide between a wealthy elite and the low and middle class is growing; and young persons of color are killed in the name of “law and order.”  We don’t feel like waiting with hopeful anticipation.  In fact, for many the future may seem more hopeless than hopeful, and waiting seems like a panacea meant to lull us into complacency.  Our Advent reflections then lead us to question whether any hope in the face of seeming hopelessness is possible.  And what right do we have to ask people to wait when they’re already hungry for peace, justice, and equality?

John Caputo’s radical theology puts a different spin on the Christian season of Advent by focusing on the “to come.”  As a singular event (an occurrence like no other), the “to come” is that which will alter our reality in profound ways.  The coming lies in the future at some unknown but expected point.  For Caputo, as for Derrida and others, the coming should be anticipated, though it is deferred.  It is always not yet, always on its way.  Its arrival lies ever on the horizon, giving us a glimpse of that which is to come, but without a complete image of the event itself.  The “to come” brings with it the peace, justice, and equality that we desire…but not yet.  It turns around our present circumstances into more life-giving and life-sustaining ways of being…but not yet.

However, while this “to come” is oriented toward the future and always not quite present, that which is to come does not turn a blind eye to the here-and-now; it does not leave us high and dry in our current conditions.  Rather, that which is coming calls us and impinges upon us in significant ways, urging us to respond in the present to the call of a future coming.  “It calls us, it solicits us, it urges us, it lures us toward the future,” says Caputo.

What is this future that it urges us and lures us toward?  It is the expected and anticipated future in which the structures of the world will be radically altered in the name of peace, justice, and equality.  Caputo says “The to come shines a white light of urgency on the present, and it exposes all the faults of the present.” The urging does not mean that these structures will change overnight or that when we wake up on Christmas day all will be well in the world.  But it insists that we should not simply be waiting.  We should be working, in whatever small way that we can to kindle a glimpse of the “to come” in the present, among the brokenness of the world.

If we are waiting this Advent season, let our waiting be active rather than passive.  Let us respond to the call of the “to come,” and let our expectation and anticipation motivate us to work toward that which we are awaiting.

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