Advent of the Force: The Countdown Awakens

A year ago, the world collectively drooled over the recently-released trailer for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Now, we’re only a little over two weeks away from its release.

We posted this article and looked at how our excitement for the movie can show us something about Advent, the season of waiting and anticipation for Christ’s birth on Christmas.

Take a look back with me as I cringe at my own writing and shake my head at what I thought was important, 364 days ago…

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[…] We’re all—tentatively—looking forward to this, because it looks good. From the stormtrooper in the desert to the rolling ball droid to the Millennium Falcon’s epic battle, it feels like Star Wars is truly coming back. The wait has begun.

The tempered optimism of December 2014 has given way to a frantic thrill in the hearts of fans everywhere.  The full trailer, and all its remixed incarnations, have been watched millions of times, scrutinized over and over, and made everyone itch to finally see the movie.  It’s the most presold film in history, and if it lives up to half of the hype, it’ll be the best movie of the year.  Oh, and said droid has a name now: BB-8.

But the same day that the Episode VII trailer was released, the wait began for another major event. The end of Thanksgiving signals the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season. And on Sunday, the official season of Advent began, and with it thousands of advent series in churches around the world.

So what could these two events – a “new hope” for an adventure in a galaxy far, far away and the beginning of a holiday season – possibly have in common?

The feeling is familiar.

This trailer feels like Star Wars.  For the first time since the Jedi returned in 1983, the universe feels right.  Dirty, rusty, barely held together technology.  High adventure and space action.  Unlikely people thrust into situations with galaxy-changing ramifications.  Stormtroopers.  Speeders.  X-wings.  Droids.  This world finally feels like it should.

And that’s important.  The feeling of things is a crucial part of how we experience them.  The Christmas season, for instance, feels like it does because of the snow, the decorations, the presents, the crowded stores, and above all the anticipation – the feeling of Christmas is a very distinct one, and it prepares us for what’s to come.  We’re familiar with it.  And, in part, that feeling is what Advent is.

As I’ve thought about it, though, I’ve realized that the anticipation is really the feeling we’re all familiar with.  Some friends of ours have moved to Australia to plant a church, and they’re still (I assume) experiencing the anticipation even without snow, extended family, or their network of friends.  It’s the waiting that really makes the season.

What feeling do you associate with Christmas?  Is it a hectic, pell-mell race to December 25?  Do you spend so much time with your family that they make you want to move to Tahiti until April?  Is the food distinctly better-tasting during the month of December?  Do you mark each day with growing anticipation or growing dread?  Or is this time a sweet time of remembering the coming of a small baby, born to remove the sins of the world?

That feels kind of Jesus Juke-y, doesn’t it?  Sorry about that.  If I were writing this now, I’d remind you: it’s not bad to look forward to Christmas with anticipation of food, family, or even just a couple days off work.  And it’s completely understandable to dread the uncomfortable conversations, painful drive times, or financial difficulty that can come along with Christmas.

It’s not about just plastering on a fake smile and pretending to love the season.  It’s about remembering that the season has an Ultimate Purpose: to point us toward Jesus, not to stir up some nostalgia or goodwill in our hearts.  So don’t worry if you don’t feel it!  Jesus died so you wouldn’t have to.

We’ve waited for this before.

Whatever your experience of waiting, we’ve waited for this before: dissecting every rumor, imagining every piece of information, dreaming of the movies in our heads as we prepare to take it all in.  It’s a time-honored tradition.

This is particularly interesting because I’ve been actively avoiding this information for The Force Awakens.  After the first trailer was released, I decided I was going to stop watching trailers.  Why?  Because I want to be surprised.  I want to be reminded of the feeling I had the first time I watched The Empire Strikes Back.  I want the same sort of thing that Advent helps us with.

[…W]e need to be reminded every year.  It’s so hard to remember the power that God poured out for us.  It’s so easy to forget the light of Christ and the darkness of the world without Him.

 

It’s a long wait in the dark.

[…] No major television series taking place on a space ship are on the air, nothing with grand stakes, nothing with laser guns and extreme action and bombastic villains.  Aside from Guardians of the Galaxy (and that’s arguably a superhero film), there’s just not much for sci-fi fans.  In this world, Star Wars is a breath of fresh air, and the wait between them is almost painful.

This is still true.  Life is simultaneously great and terrible for science fiction fans.  The anticipation of something to come and break that mold is amazing.

A similar wait faced believers in God a little over 2,000 years ago.  The time between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament in the Bible is called “the 400 years of silence,” wherein there was no direct word from God to His people for four centuries.  After Malachi finished his ministry of prophecy in the book that bears his name, we next check in on the people of God in the New Testament, wherein they seem to have gone…well…a little crazy.

To say the least.

Idolatry is rampant.  Money-changers are in the temple.  The Pharisees—legalists—are in charge of the spiritual health of the people. All of this despite the hundreds of years of ministry of prophets to Israel. But all through this time, the faithful were waiting. They saw their sin, the darkness of the world around them, and they saw that the law of God demanded payment. And they heard the promises that God would send someone to make that payment on their behalf. So with a groaning and pain, God’s people waited for Him to once again speak to His people.  The “rumors and leaks” surrounded them, bringing only hope to be dashed.

The weeks of Advent are designed to put you into their shoes and show you that waiting in the dark for God to speak is painful.  And it doesn’t always end when you want it to.  But when God breaks the silence, He does so in a big, big way.

The waiting ends.

Anyone who has seen Star Wars remembers the intro sequence.  “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….” fades from the screen just long enough to make you think that something is wrong, but then without warning, and in bright yellow accompanied by an enormous John Williams orchestral hit, the name “STAR WARS” appears, and the stars themselves seem to sing about it.  With that, you’re on your way to another universe; the opening “crawl” catches you up on what’s going on while you enter the universe, and finally you’re dropped into the middle of a space battle, or a ship crewed by people afraid for their lives.  And the waiting is over, and you’re finally there.  The moment has arrived for you to savor, for good or for ill.

And like the opening orchestral hit, the arrival of Jesus Christ into human history was a cataclysmic one – though it was hidden in normalcy at the time.  A small feeding trough held a child, and shepherds came to pay their respects to him – while simultaneously angels were sent out in legions, stars moved from their intended locations, entire armies were upended and sent at the whims of a jealous king – all because a little baby was born.  When Advent ends, it ends with a triumphant message: Christ has come, and the whole universe is heralding his arrival.

Why is it that Christmas celebrates the coming of Jesus, not His miracles?  Or perhaps the start of His ministry?  We remember His birth every year, but He’s been alive for millennia now.

The reason, I think, is that Jesus’ bright appearance into a dark world is all the more shocking when you travel through Advent, seeing a broken world all around you and the promises of an eternal King, and when He comes…it’s a helpless baby, born to a poor peasant.  The power of God isn’t in superpowers God has given to Jesus; it’s in His plan to save the world.

A dark, broken world.

What’s different?

But all of this doesn’t answer one big issue: some of the Star Wars films weren’t worth the wait.  Whether through poor choices or missed opportunities, the Star Wars films are not universally loved, and while the verdict is out on when exactly this became true, it is true nonetheless.

I really, really hope that Episode VII is good.

So, what about Advent?

Well, if the end of Advent for you is a box wrapped in ribbon under a Christmas tree, you’re headed for some disappointment, too.  You’ve been here before.  You’ve seen how this ends.  The lights come down and the box is empty, your hopes and dreams are shot down by a fully armed and operational battle station called truth, and all that’s left for you is 364 days to look forward to or dread the next one.

But if the end of Advent for you is a broken man wrapped in blood atop a crucifixion tree, you might be on to something.  You might be following the best show in this or any other far, far away galaxy.  For you, the victory is near.

I really, really hope in Christ’s death on the cross for me.  But it’s not the same type of hope as the one I have for Episode VII.  This hope is built on a reality and truth; it is a certainty, a substance.  I know that Christ lives, and that He has saved me.  It’s true (“…all of it”).  And because I hope in it, it changes my life, and the way I approach holidays.

So don’t waste advent.  Pursue rumor and news of Christ like He’s at the center of the most anticipated event in history (He is).  Enjoy the feeling.  Remember the feeling.  Investigate the darkness and the coming light.  And then hold your breath for the ride of your life.

Or hold your breath for a calm, creeping realization of who Jesus is for you.  Just because it’s not some rush doesn’t make it any less true.

May the force be with you.

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