Why We Need a Little Advent

James Tonkowich, ReligionToday.com Columnist

Why We Need a Little Advent

It’s been more than a month since Election Day 2012. Mr. Obama will be our president for another four years and those who had hoped for a Romney victory have no choice but to move on.

Yet a surprising number of people I know don’t seem to be able to move on. I have friends who will listen to anything in the car as long as it’s not news. Another friend, a TV news junkie, hasn’t watched since early morning on November 7.

“I’m depressed over this whole thing,” they say. And their mood certainly seems to have crossed the line from sadness to low-level depression.

I’m not happy about the election either. Our religious liberty is in jeopardy and four more years of the Obama administration will make matters worse. The miniscule religious exception in the HHS contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs mandate is a harbinger of bad things to come. Respect for human life from conception to natural death will reach new lows. The economy will likely get even worse. And whatever prestige and moral leadership in world affairs the United States once enjoyed will continue to deteriorate with the predictable result that the world will get even more dangerous.

There’s plenty to be unhappy about. But depressed? Maybe those without Christ have cause for depression, but not Christians. God’s church has survived worse.

In AD 476, the Goths sacked Rome. I would imagine that barbarians inside the gates of the greatest city of the ancient world was cause for bewilderment, anger and depression. Christianity was blamed for the mess.

In response, Saint Augustine wrote The City of God, in which he argued that there are two cities that coexist in this world — the City of Man and the City of God. These “two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self” (XIV.28).

Christians belong to both cities and Augustine is quick to say that the City of Man is not altogether bad. The earthly city can secure earthly peace that benefits everyone. Victory and peace, he wrote, “are good things, and without doubt the gifts of God.” Then he went on to warn of an inordinate love for the City of Man and it’s goods: “But if [people] neglect the better things of the heavenly city, which are secured by eternal victory and peace never-ending, and so inordinately covet these present good things that they believe them to be the only desirable things, or love them better than those things which are believed to be better — if this be so, then it is necessary that misery follow and ever increase” (XV.5).

There is nothing wrong with enjoying the good things God provides through the City of Man. Our country admirable and laudable for many reasons. But the City of Man, founded as it is on misdirected love, is always unstable. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal.” Without exception, they do not last.

Which makes Advent God’s annual cure for the this-worldly focus that can, with enough bad news, lead us into depression.

Advent is not focused entirely on Jesus’ coming in humility as the infant in the manger. Advent points us to his future coming in glory as the victorious conqueror who establishes eternal peace.

Advent reminds us that the City of Man will one day be nothing by a distant memory. “But by God’s final judgment which shall be administered by His Son Jesus Christ,” Augustine continued, “there shall by God’s grace be manifested a glory so pervading and so new, that no vestige of what is old shall remain; for even our bodies shall pass from their old corruption and mortality to new incorruption and immortality” (XX.17).

In the meanwhile, insofar as we are citizens of the City of Man, we share in its benefits and fate. Because of that and because of love for our neighbors, we work for its good (Jeremiah 29:7) and mourn for its ills.

At the same time, this country, for all its good, is not our future and hope. We live as citizens of the City of God joyfully anticipating Christ’s second coming even in the face of elections that don’t go our way, bad public policy, barbarians inside the gates, and the rising and falling of nations.

The observance of Advent reminds us that regardless of what happens next, the King is coming.

Publication date: December 12, 2012

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