Do you “get ready for Christmas” or “observe Advent”—or both? …Or neither?
Can you truly do the first without the second?
If you do neither, is it because the whole seasonal fuss has burned you out?
Let’s get to the heart of the matter—or at least of the definitions of “Advent.” Maybe something in number one will surprise you, or give you pause to reflect:
Ad vent 1 : the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting 2a : the coming of Christ at the Incarnation b: SECOND COMING 3 not cap : a coming into being or use…*
Do you customarily fast during December? Or personally know anyone who does? I’m sure there must be some people, but I can’t think of anyone I know…
Instead, hasn’t this become a time of too much? Eating, spending, rushing about to meet deadlines, we also overload the calendar with festivities. And all that brings us crashing to an exhausted end by January first.
A ground swell of rebellion against this is rolling around amongst us, but its aim is more to simplify and minimize for its own sake than to appreciate the depth of beauty the season might have.
I have found that getting a better understanding of Advent has corrected my focus, eased my overload, and yet enriched my December greatly. I’m still growing in this, for my Christmas traditions did not include Advent until recent years.
In the coming weeks I hope to share a little of that understanding and appreciation with you, starting right now with nuggets of insight hiding in the definitions above:
“Advent,” in all cases, indicates “a coming” of someone or something. Hence, an anticipation, looking forward to it.
Observe the second set of definitions above. Both focus on Christ, but in two different times: 1) His past coming into our world incarnated in humanity, and 2) His future return, when unfulfilled prophesies are finally realized.
In both cases the “Advent view” essentially looks forward.
On the one hand it puts us in the sandals of the ancients, to vicariously look forward with the longing hope of the ages through the eyes of prophets, psalmists, and ordinary people who foresaw a Redeemer’s visit to redeem this wretched world from its lostness, confusion, and misery.
We look forward with Isaiah, for instance, who announces, “For unto us a child is born, a son is given…” centuries before it happens, or with angels who proclaim His coming birth. We may even time travel way back to the outskirts of the Garden of Eden, to long with Adam and Eve, who lost paradise and could only cling to the promise that somehow, sometime, “the seed of the woman” would be born who would “bruise the head” of the deceiver who had manipulated them into casting that paradise away.
This makes sense of the fasting that “some Christians” (in the definition) might do: Fasting associates itself with mourning, with longing and fervent praying for relief from evil and harm and loss and emptiness and need.
So, with all who mourned and longed for these things, we look forward to His arrival as “the child.”
Yet The Baby arrived, and grew. And the Man he became healed and blessed, taught, and brought people out of darkness. And then He died, sacrificing Himself for the redeeming of our souls. But after that He went away, and the story hangs unfinished.
The rest of the story is the other side of Advent: the longing look for His promised return, to right all wrongs, to heal all ills, to establish the Kingdom of God where all things are new, and good.
In our filling of December, long before Christmas Day, with all things glittery and distracting, it’s easy to obscure the shining hope of our future. And oh, do we need that hope!
So let’s look backward, to celebrate the fulfillment of His first coming, but also forward, to the fulfillment of His second coming, when the celebration will far exceed anything we can invent to contrive a “jolly holiday” now.
A blessed Advent to you, dear reader.