Where I live, in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA, Northern Hemisphere, the darkness descends early in the evening these days. I sleep for a short while and wake well before the darkness lifts in the morning. I light Advent candles and sit and think and pray and read.
I am trying to resist reading news reports, because there is much darkness in them. Here: another mass shooting. There: a college president who claims to be a Christian, urges his students to arm themselves. In another place: a presidential candidate who actually identified himself to be "a good Christian," proposes a ban on Muslims in our country and taunts those who condemn him.
When there are so many deeds and words of darkness, how do we perceive that alternate way of Jesus? The best single description of this way is the collection of Jesus' teachings in Matthew, chapters 5-7. I think Jesus actually expected his followers to live according to these teachings - for the sake of the world. Advent reminds us to be alert, to be watching: where is the Spirit moving within us and among us, giving Jesus' followers the ability to live according to these teachings of radical love and humility - for the sake of the world? In these ways, we embody the advent of the kingdom.
An Advent candle is a gentle reminder of God's faithful presence in the darkness. We watch for the movement of the Spirit. We act in radical love and humility. And we pray, "Your kingdom come." When we practice Advent we dig deeply into our need and hope for the kingdom to come. "Your kingdom come," we pray, hoping for safety. "Your kingdom come," we pray, hoping for an end to fear. "Your kingdom come," we pray, hoping for peace. "Your kingdom come," we pray, hoping for an end to hunger and poverty. Advent reminds us to be alert, to watch for the movement of God the Holy Spirit in the midst of all that is dispiriting, and to act, as the Spirit makes that possible, for the sake of the world. In these ways, we embody the advent of the kingdom.
An important warning: "Your kingdom come" will not happen because we work harder to make it come! It is not up to us. It is gift from God. We respond to the Spirit as it moves. Alert, watchful, we notice where the Spirit is bearing fruit within and among followers of Jesus along the way, for the sake of the world. We note words and actions of: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control," to use one of Paul's lists, this one in Galatians. We act in these ways, when God gives us opportunities to touch others with that radical love and humility.
In this is the Advent of the kingdom.