It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9
WHAT IS ADVENT?
Originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas. The word “Advent” comes the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.” In the early church, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation, his coming in the flesh. During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in repentance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration.
By the sixth century, Roman Christians were celebrating the coming of Christ at Advent. But the coming they had in mind was not primarily Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ADVENT TODAY
Today the Advent season lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. Advent represents the situation of God’s people as we wait for Jesus to return to bring his eternal kingdom.
The church is like the people of Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping for the Messiah to come. They remembered what God had done for them by leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and they prayed for God to deliver them again. In the same way, Christians during Advent celebrate Jesus’ first coming at his birth while looking forward in eager anticipation to his second coming when he returns for his people. The Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s heart during the Advent season:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
The Israelites would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming. Christians now sing the song to remember his first coming and to look forward to his second coming in the future.
ADVENT AND THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
Advent is intended to be a season of fasting and reflection, as well as anticipation. Reflecting on the violence and evil in the world leads us to cry out to God to make things right—to put death’s dark shadows to flight. Our exile in the present makes us look forward to our future Exodus. And our sinfulness and need for grace lead us to pray for the Holy Spirit to renew his work in conforming us into the image of Christ.
The hope for the people of Israel and the hope for Christians is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent.
This Advent season, I encourage you to take some time for reflection on life between the two comings of Christ: looking back on Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and finished work on the cross—and looking ahead to when he will return to bring his kingdom and make all things right.
This is the first post from Justin’s new series on Advent