At first glance, Advent doesn’t seem to have anything to do with work. Advent, after all, is a special season in the Christian year, a time for people to prepare for the advent of Christ at Christmas. (The English word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.”) Advent is about faith and hope, maybe even about love. It doesn’t seem to be about work.
Of course if we step back from the religious meaning of Advent and think of it as 25 days before Christmas, then there are some obvious implications for work. (The exact number of days in Advent varies from year to year.) Lots of companies bring on extra staff in this time because they anticipate a sharp uptick in sales. For some workers, the weeks before Christmas are especially busy, with lots of work and even overtime.
For others, there is a bit of a break in Advent. Office Christmas parties and other festivities provide a pleasant interruption of ordinary work patterns. Often, workers take vacation in the days right before Christmas, the last days of Advent, either for holiday travel or for extra time off with family and friends.
But is there some deeper connection between Advent and our work, besides the various alterations that come in the weeks before Christmas? I believe so.
Advent is a time in which we remember just how much we need a Savior. Christians think back to the time when the Jewish people yearned for God to deliver them from foreign domination. They needed God’s anointed one, God’s Messiah. We also think about how much our world is still a mess, and how much we yearn for the second coming (second advent!) of the Messiah, who will repair and renew all things.
For most of us, our work is part of the mess we recognize in Advent. Even if we mostly like our jobs, we all go through times of frustration and disappointment. Even if we mostly get along with our colleagues, we all experience miscommunications and misunderstandings. Even if we mostly find meaning in our daily work, there are times when work is a drag. Then, there are some of us who work because we have to in order to survive. We might have a terrible boss. Or we might find our work to be mind-numbingly boring or even literally back-breaking. One way or another, almost all human beings experience the brokenness of work that comes as a result of human sin (see Genesis 3).
Thus, work can indeed spark our Advent yearning, especially when it is difficult and disappointing. Work can remind us of how much we need a Savior, and not just we ourselves, but our world. We look around us and ache for God to intervene, to bring justice to workplaces—whether it is overcoming the scourge of racism or setting free victims of human trafficking—to form workplaces where all people are treated with dignity and honor, and to provide good work for all people.
Advent is not just a season for yearning, however. It is also a season of hope. Hope, in Scripture, is not wishful thinking. It’s not wanting what we are pretty sure we’ll never get. Rather, hope is a confident assurance that, in time, things will be as God has promised. God will indeed come again through Jesus the Messiah, bringing his justice and mercy. When this happens, human work—our work—will be restored to what God intended it to be: a way for us to participate fruitfully as partners in God’s work in the world, a means of deep fulfillment as well as embodied worship, an opportunity to live fully as creatures created in God’s own image.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is the executive director for the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. With years of experience as a pastor and non-profit leader as well as a mentor to leaders in business and other fields, Mark is deeply committed to helping the Church & Marketplace network serve leaders in the marketplace, education, government, non-profits, arts, family, and the church. Mark is married to Linda, a licensed therapist, spiritual director, and executive coach. Linda and Mark enjoy speaking together at churches and retreat centers on issues of discipleship, spiritual growth, leadership, and marriage. They have two children who are students on the East Coast.