Faces on Faith: Capsule version of what Advent is about
The season of Advent has arrived, but except for those churches which observe the liturgical year, it seems to be an unfamiliar time. It does mark the beginning of a new year in the church calendar, but still unfamiliar to many faithful attenders as well as those who visit a church infrequently. This seems like an opportunity to shed some light, not only on the practices of Advent, but on the meaning of this pre-Christmas season.
The word advent comes from the Latin word meaning “coming,” and in this context it refers explicitly to the coming of Jesus. However, that does not mean that the sole focus is on Jesus’ birth. Instead, the Scripture readings for the first Sunday of Advent focus on Jesus’ future return in power and majesty. We will not know the time in advance, according to Jesus, only God the Father knows. Instead of being warned ahead of time we are urged to live in such a way that we are constantly prepared for him to come. The second Sunday readings reveal John the Baptist, coming from the wilderness to prepare the way among the people for Jesus’ birth, but challenging the religious leadership to live lives faithful to God rather than depend on their position and status.
On the third Sunday of Advent, Jesus reassures John, by showing that his work matches the prophecy of Isaiah that John proclaimed, and commends John to the people as the prophet called to prepare them for the arrival of their Messiah. Finally, on the fourth Sunday in Advent, we learn of God’s announcement to Mary that she was the one chosen to be the mother of Jesus, and of Mary’s willing agreement. And in doing that, Mary is a model of discipleship for us, willing to be obedient to God despite the uncertainty.
Well, that’s the capsule version of what Advent is about – Jesus coming to live as one of us, and to bring redemption to all who have been separated from God, and to return in glory to usher in the reality of his kingdom.
Of course, as we live the reality of Advent, and celebrate Jesus among us, we also live in the midst of our secular culture. And if we begin to think that we must deny one in order to enjoy the other, we miss the truth of both. I enjoy giving and receiving Christmas presents as much as anyone. I especially like the smiles on young faces as they wildly rip off the wrappings to see what their packages contain. But that gift giving, for the young and the less young, is a wonderful teaching opportunity and reminder that all this is a shadow of the greatest gift ever given, the gift of new and enduring life through our Savior and our Lord, Jesus the Christ.
The Rev. Alan Kelmereit is the assisting rector at Saint Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church.