The Season of Advent
Advent is the beginning of the Church Year for most churches in the Western tradition. It begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which is the Sunday nearest November 30, and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday of Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.
The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is preparation to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Thus, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God.
Advent symbolizes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as they affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power, giving rise to a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people.
Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance from the evils of the world. It is that hope, however faint at times, and that God, however distant He sometimes seems, which brings to the world the anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and righteousness over His people and in His creation. Part of the expectation also anticipates a judgment on sin and a calling of the world to accountability before God. We long for God to come and set the world right! Yet, as the prophet Amos warned, the expectation of a coming judgment at the “Day of the Lord” may not be the day of light that we might want, because the penetrating light of God’s judgment on sin will shine just as brightly on God’s people.
Of course, there is the problem of longing for vindication from an evil world when we are contributors to that evil. This is the power of the images of Amos when he warns about longing for the “Day of the Lord” that will really be a day of darkness (Amos 5:18 – 20). Still, even with Amos’ warning the time of Advent is one of expectation and anticipation, a longing for God’s actions to restore all things and vindicate the righteous. This is why during Advent we as Christians also anticipate the Second Coming as a twin theme of the season. So, while some church traditions focus on penitence during Advent, and there remains a place for that, the spirit of that expectation from the Old Testament is better captured with a joyous sense of expectancy. Advent is celebrated as a time of joy and happiness as we await the coming of the King.
Because of the dual themes of threat and promise, Advent is a time of preparation marked by prayer. Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness who are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Is a 9).
The spirit of Advent is expressed well in the parable of the bridesmaids who are anxiously awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom (Matt 25:1 – 13). There is profound joy at the Bridegroom’s expected coming. And yet a warning of the need for preparation echoes through the parable.