There is something so exciting about getting your hands on an advent calendar. A brand-new shiny ornament to decorate some corner of your house, invariably with daily treats inside. Something to brighten up a cold, busy and expensive December, and a way to reach forward and bring the joy of celebrating Christmas Day into the period of preparation. They are fun, and a staple part of the Christmas season for many including myself, so I wouldn’t knock them. However, I do not think Advent calendars alone draw us in to the full meaning of Advent.
Derived from the Latin ‘adventus’, literally meaning ‘coming’, Advent is a period of waiting for Christ to come. It is believed to have originated in the 4th-5th century and was originally a season of preparation and waiting prior to baptism on Epiphany, but over time has been linked with Christmas itself. And it is easy to see why – Christmas is the celebration of God Incarnate, the divine leaning into humanity and choosing to dwell amongst us in such a weak and vulnerable way. Christmas is the beginning of the end – the beginning of the life of Jesus which will ultimately lead to the end of the power of sin and death, the end of humanity’s separation from God.
Advent can be so easily lost in the busyness of modern life – work Christmas parties, sourcing gifts, trying to find a moment to secretly wrap and hide everything, visits to family – but I truly think that it is the church tradition that most accurately reflects our lives in this world. As we wait and long for the day where we celebrate the Incarnation, so too in life we wait and long for the faith God Incarnate. There are so many different ways in which we struggle and we feel the deep brokenness of the world and of sin. Even now, I am sure there are various situations coming to mind in which you are hoping that God will move, and in doing so we are joining with all the saints that have gone before us in praying the Advent prayer “O Lord, come.” Underscoring all of this is the truth in which we hope; that Jesus is coming. One day, known only to the Father, this world will finally be put to righteousness. The presence of God will be the air between us and the light that surrounds us. Justice, and more importantly Jesus, will reign once and forever.
Jesus has come, Jesus does come, and we know that Jesus will come. This is the tension that defines and guides the Christian walk, and it is this faith that allows us to face the trials of life, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to invest in the growth of a Christlike character while we wait for Him. Karl Barth in his book ‘Christmas’ puts it so well in saying:
Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.Karl Barth
I love that the 2 big celebrations in the Christian Calendar – Christmas and Easter – are balanced with seasons of preparation – Advent and Lent. As we celebrate the feast, there is an immense opportunity to take joy in the fast. So, as we prepare for Christmas, in whatever ways and traditions you do, please join me in not losing sight of the season to hand: one of longing with assured expectation, allowing God to meet us before the ends, sitting with the darkness of the world as we patiently wait for The Light to come.