When I was in elementary school, the swings were a pretty popular place to be at recess, but it wasn’t because it was so much fun to simply swing gently back and forth, like I might do today.
It was more because we usually screwed around on the swings until somebody eventually got hurt. Every year at least one kid would get seriously hurt because of doing something stupid on the swings.
But that didn’t stop us from continuing our “Lord of the Flies” type competitions.
Probably the safest thing we did was see who could swing the highest. Two guys would sit in swings next to each other, and then they’d start swinging at the same time, and see who could get the highest the quickest.
You had to be careful not to swing crooked, because then you’d hit each other and it would probably hurt. The goal you’d aim for was to swing so high that the chains would go slack, and you’d actually freefall for just a brief moment before being jerked backwards.
Not many kids could go quite that high.
But a few could.
And the kids who could, they were the same ones who quickly decided that it would be even more exciting to swing that high, and then jump off the swing right at that highest point.
We were in awe of those kids.
They were the daredevils of the playground.
And it’s not surprising that they were often the ones who ended up in the nurse’s office after twisting their ankles or knocking their heads after such a stunt.
Such is the cost of glory.
Now, all stunts aside, we can imagine a simple swing like you might remember from your own childhood. My swings were at school, maybe yours were at an aunt and uncle’s house, or a park, or maybe you had your own swing.
And maybe you can remember what it was like, to swing, to pump your legs back and forth and gain momentum and simply enjoy the movement of swinging through the air.
And maybe you can remember; just faintly, that moment when you swing forward, and your forward movement stops for just a split second before you start going backwards.
It’s that moment, when you’re suspended in mid-air, going neither forward nor backward, free for an instant from the forces of gravity and time, that’s the moment I want to zero in in this post.
That moment stands as a very literal and yet very symbolic turning point. It’s both a beginning and an ending, and yet that moment itself is neither.
Do you get what I’m saying? However brief it might be, there’s one moment –one instant– between each swing where
It’s that one magical moment when the end of one movement kisses the beginning of the next.
For Christian people, Advent is that moment.
Sure, it’s about the baby Jesus and the miraculous conception and the faith it takes to bring a child into a world ruled by brokenness and pain.
But it’s also about what comes next; the cosmic “forward” that feels like “back”; the reality that we are somehow living between the forward swing of Christ’s life and death and resurrection, and the next swing back of the “second coming”.
Advent is that moment; and yet in that moment I’ve got eternity on my mind. It’s a moment that sweeps past and present and future into its warm embrace. It’s a timeless moment stretching through eternity.
Advent is as much about looking back as looking forward. That’s what’s so hard for our Western eyes to understand. We’d prefer if it was linear, progressing from the birth to the death to the resurrection to the natural state of a better world.
Unfortunately, it’s not like that. We still have signs of the kind Jesus talks about in Luke 21; the same kinds of signs that generation beheld. Nations continue to be in “anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.” People still “faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming “. We are still in that timeless moment between the swings.
And Jesus still says “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:28). I hear an edge in Jesus’ voice this year that I haven’t always heard.
“Stand up, lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing near.”
I almost hear a challenge there, like “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” “Stand up straight and look me in the eye!” Meet your Maker’s righteous gaze when he comes “in a cloud with power and great glory.”
It’s not all judgment though; for we do share the hope of resurrection.
What are your thoughts? Can we help each other “be able to stand before the Son of Man”? (Luke 21:36). Can we swing together, encouraging each other to remain faithful in this timeless moment between ‘now’ and ‘later’?
Will we risk knocking our heads as we swing side by side, seeking an elusive eternity in that split second stretched beyond tense?