Advent is a time of preparation and transformation. It is an approximately four-week period in which we are invited to reflect and contemplate how we can spiritually prepare ourselves not just for Christmas Day, but for the Second Coming of Christ. Advent not only brings to mind the first coming of Jesus with his birth in Bethlehem, but it also anticipates Christ’s return at the end of time.
Inviting us to reflect on God becoming man, the season of Advent also challenges us to examine our sinfulness and transgressions in preparation for the second coming.
When John the Baptizer made his appearance as a preacher in the desert of Judea, this was his theme. “Reform your lives! The reign of God is at hand.” It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A herald’s voice in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
John was clothed in a garment of camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist. Grasshoppers and wild honey were his food. At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him. They were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins.
When he saw that many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were stepping forward for this bath, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come? Give some evidence that you mean to reform. Do not pride yourselves on the claim; Abraham is our father. I tell you; God can raise up children to Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown in the fire. I baptize you in water for the sake of reform, but the one who will follow me is more powerful than I. I am not even fit to carry his sandals. He it is who will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear the threshing floor and gather his grain into the barn, but the chaff he will burn in unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:1-12).
The word advent originates from the Latin word adventus, which means coming or arrival. Advent can start as early as November 27th, affording a period of 28 days or it can begin as late as December 3rd. During Advent there is more of a subdued setting coupled with expectant hope. The color of the Advent season in liturgical churches is violet.
The season of Advent spiritually invites us to contemplate three aspects of Jesus: the historical: his birth, the present: his presence in our lives today, and the anticipated: his second coming at the end of the world.
As Christians we long for the fullness of the reign of God on earth. The foundation of Advent’s anticipation comes from the continued existence of sin in our world. The kingdom of God is present in our world, but it has not yet reached its fullness and completion. Even though Jesus has come into our world and shattered the darkness of sin, and our world is forever changed, sin still exists and continues to strangle humanity. Evil continues to envelop our world and the act of redemption is not complete.
Symbolically, as physical daylight rapidly wanes and the darkness of night increases, the season of Advent is a period of time to cry out to God that the darkness of the destructive forces of evil still sway our planet. Although as followers of Jesus we do not believe sin will ultimately reign, because Christ is king, the reality is sin does exist and humanity suffers daily because of it. Advent is a time for us as church to identify and recognize evil in our world.
The significance of the Incarnation is only understood in accord with Jesus’ pledge to come again. To detach Christ’s first coming from his second coming tarnishes both events. Jesus’ second coming could not exist without the first coming. The promise of the second coming gives hope today, that even in the midst of darkness and sin, the kingdom of God will reach its fullness at the end of time in Jesus Christ. Advent not only reminds us of Jesus’ first coming, but also directs us forward to the second coming, thus providing Christians with a vision for the future.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of that vision:
But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide, but he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Justice shall be the band around his waist and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, and a little child to guide them. The cow and bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as waters cover the sea. On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious (11:1-10).
As we wait for Christ to come again, we are called to be spiritually active, and not dormant or passive. We are challenged to create a world where peace and justice reign; where all are welcome, especially the poor, the needy and the suffering; and where we seek to liberate others with the gospel message of Jesus through evangelization.
Advent, then, is a time of joyful expectation: it is the acknowledgement of the fact that, although God has acted decisively on our behalf in Jesus’ birth, there is still much to be acknowledged and accomplished on our spiritual journey as we await Jesus’ return in glory.