Advent of the Force

Advent of the Force

There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

The first teaser trailer for the new Star Wars film dropped like a thermal detonator on millions of fans last Friday morning, immediately sparking hype and debate. Still, despite being burned by the last three entries into the saga, fans seem to be approaching this new film with a rather cautious optimism, triple-bladed lightsabers aside. 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.

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.

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?

We’ve waited for this before.

It feels right because we’ve been here before.  Like many geeks my age, I grew up with the prequel series, awaiting The Phantom Menace as a bright-eyed and hopeful young teenager, but maybe your most memorable experience of waiting for Star Wars was in the 80s, awaiting The Empire Strikes Back or The Return of the Jedi.  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.

Much like waiting for Star Wars, it seems like the wait for Christmas has the strongest effect upon children.  Dressed in a costume just for the occasion, waiting until those in charge finally let them in, clutching favorite toys and staring in wide-eyed fascination, the scene is familiar.  In the case of Advent, it happens every year.

That’s because we 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.

The state of science fiction in recent years has been a bit dismal.  Sure, there’s the J.J. Abrams Star Trek, and Doctor Who is a great show, but it seems that the popular genre for the geek crowd right now is the superhero genre.  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.

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.  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.

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.

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.

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.

May the force be with you.

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