The celebration of Advent as the period of preparation began no later than AD 480 and at the Council of Tours in 567, monks were ordered to fast everyday in December until Christmas.
The word “advent” comes from the Latin word “adventus” meaning “coming.” This refers both to the original expectation of the Messiah to come in Jewish tradition, as well as the Second Coming of Jesus in Christianity. It begins the 4th Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve, when the liturgical season of Christmas begins and lasts 12 days until Epiphany.
Advent is a time when we long for God to break into our stale and stagnant lives. It’s a time of longing, of hoping, of reorienting our lives toward the God who made us, loves us and redeems us. In Advent, we renew our expectation — our hope — that God will break through, that he will free us from our bondage to sin, renew our worship of our Lord Jesus Christ, and unite our worship with our daily lives.
Voices of Advent
There are three voices that are significant in our celebration of Advent: Isaiah, John the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah’s calling was to prepare the people of Israel so that God could break through their indifference and become real again. We see this in Isaiah 6, when he receives his call in the throne room of God. The seraphim sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (6:1, 3). This is followed by Isaiah’s confession of sin and the coal being touched to his lips for his forgiveness and restoration by God’s grace. Isaiah’s call to us today, like that to Israel, is for us to once again lift our voices in worship to a Holy God, confess our sin and receive the forgiveness and restoration that we long for.
Further Isaiah calls Israel to repent of their divorce of worship and justice. Israel’s worship has degenerated from a source of life to dead ritual. “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.” (Is. 1:11, 16, 17). Advent for us is meant to be a time of repentance, where we turn from the preoccupations of our pious self-centeredness and reunite our worship with justice and compassion. Advent is a time when we plead with God to break into our lives and not leave us alone. Jesus is God’s answer to our Advent cry, as he breaks in on us anew.
John the Baptist renewed this Isaianic call of repentance for the 1st Century Jews and their hope in the Messiah. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mt. 3:2). Many Jews questioned and hoped that he was the Messiah, but John had a clear vision of who he was — “the voice of one calling in the desert” (Is. 40:3 ; Mk. 1:3). As the forerunner to Jesus, he called Israel to repentance, he served God as his sole mission, and united worship and compassion. When the multitudes asked him “What then must we do?” he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” How does our worship match with our compassion? What are the areas of our life that we need to see God break into and break us from? How can we be one who points our lives, and others, toward Jesus and the love and hope that only he can bring?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, has long been downplayed in the Protestant church, but she was the vessel that God chose to conceive and give birth to Jesus the Messiah. We know little of her life, who she was, how she was, and from where she came. But Luke speaks of her as a virgin betrothed to Joseph of the house of David “who has found favor with God” (Lk. 1:28-30). In her we find a young girl who hoped in the coming Messiah and deeply longed for Israel’s renewal. She was also willing to take a risk. She did not ask that God choose someone else, or worried about her reputation, but she submitted herself to God’s will for her life. We see her hope in her song, or Magnificat, in Luke 1:46-56: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (vv. 54, 55). Mary is not a co-redeemer, but her role was indispensable for redemption.
Meditations of Advent
As a special season of the church’s liturgy, there are three main themes in which we should meditate on during Advent: Christ’s Second Coming, Longing for Christ, and the Advent of Christ in our own lives.
We are in the period of history when we long for Christ to return and to finally put all the powers of evil under his feet (1 Cor. 15:25, 27; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 2:8) in his Second Coming. In Jesus we see that evil does not have the final word, but that Jesus is the Word that has conquered death and taken away sin, the sting of death (1 Cor. 15:56). We long for the ultimate triumph of God, the reign of God’s kingdom and the eternal and lasting rule of a good God. (I think we probably feel this as much this Advent season as any other.) Therefore, this Advent season, we must remind ourselves of this hope and how it will be fulfilled in Jesus’ Second Coming.
Advent is not yet the time to meditate on the birth of Christ, but the time in which we long for his redemption. We sing “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.” Advent is the time in which we dwell on the areas in our life in which we need redemption to come. We commit these areas to Christ and pray for Jesus’ healing to come into our lives.
Finally, in Advent, we are called to meditate on the birth of Christ in our own hearts. How did we first come to know Jesus as our savior? Was it dramatic? Or did we grow up in a house that taught us the Covenant? Advent is a time in which we meditate on where our faith is placed and how we are living our lives according to that faith. Our faith is living and active. Like, the Israelites of Isaiah’s day, we are called to unite our daily lives with our worship. Are we doing that? How has our faith wained? How should it be renewed? Advent is when we are reminded of the One on whom we place the hope of our redemption.
Prayer for Advent
Merciful God, who sent your messengers, the prophets, to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation; Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, now and forever. Amen. (From The Book of Common Prayer.)