By Pastor Jerry Donovan
I got my first electric train when I was about ten years old as a Christmas gift. I was really excited when I opened the box and saw it, and couldn’t wait to put it together and make it run! Then I found out how hard it was to do that, not so much the putting it together part, but the keeping it running part. The cars, especially the engine, were hard to get onto the track just right. I thought you should be able just to put them on the track and they’d be good to go. No! All the wheels of the engine and the cars had to be just right, or either the train wouldn’t move at all, or a misaligned wheel on a car lead many cars to derail and fall off the track.
My father saw how frustrated I was getting, and he did two things that helped enormously. He stapled the track to a piece of plywood so the track segments wouldn’t come apart as the train was running over them. But most importantly, he showed me what the rerailer track was for. It wasn’t just for connecting the track to its electric source, but was primarily there to align the wheels of any engine or car you ran over it. It might take a few tries since the length of the track was shorter than some cars or engines, but it would eventually work and then help keep the cars aligned or realign them every time they passed over it.
Advent is like a rerailer track in the Christian year. It points us toward the conclusion of all things in Christ as the North Star of our lives as individuals, congregations, denominations, and the body of Christ throughout the world. As we are reminded throughout this season, again and again, of where God intends to lead us all, we are enabled to get our lives realigned with the purposes and challenges of living in God’s kingdom here and now. We become aware of the great disconnection between where we are and where God longs and works for us to be. We are also realigned with God’s intention to meet us where we are, to fill us with joy, and to do everything possible here and now through us to make this world more closely approximate what God is longing for it to become.
Is it possible to run an electric train without the rerailer track? Yes. There are other ways to connect the power source to the track. But does it make good sense to do so? Not so much. The tracks and the train wheels are imperfect, and the motion as well as the expansion and contraction over time because of the heat produced by electricity and friction will separate the tracks unevenly, and this will cause the wheels to start derailing. Having a rerailer in the circuit helps put the wheels back on track even if they’ve started to stray.
So it is with us in the church and the work of Advent. We may have gone in a wide variety of directions during the season after Pentecost, many of them quite good. But in the course of pursuing all those directions, we may also have lost our bearings on where our lives and labor as God’s people are heading. Advent comes around every year to bring the whole church into the single focus on that one thing. As with the rerailer track on my electric train set, it might take more than one passing over the track to realign us with our and the universe’s ultimate end. And so we take a full four weeks to realign our lives around our true North Star.
It’s spending that time focused on the end, the conclusion of all things in Christ, that truly realigns and so prepares us to celebrate and contemplate the mystery of their beginning in his incarnation on Christmas Day, and then carries us through the rest of the Christian year to his resurrection on Easter Sunday.