Advent

Note: the following reflections on the Advent season was first produced December 2014 and has been updated a year later.

My own Christian background meant I had little time for celebrating special days and seasons in the church calendar, including Christmas and Easter, which is in marked contrast to large sections of the church that pay much attention to such matters, when often the whole year is mapped out, which at best means that every aspect of the Christian faith gets covered. As Lent is to Easter, so Advent is to Christmas, which people throughout the world, including many without much, if any, Christian faith are about to celebrate, with the central figure, Christ, playing anything between no part and a major part in the proceedings. Like Lent, Advent is a time for the devout to embark upon sober reflection and prepare for the more exuberant celebrations – of our Lord’s coming into the world as a baby (Christmas) and, in the case of Lent, his rising from the dead (Easter). These days many are ignorant as to the real meaning of Advent (and Christmas come to that) and some use it as a means merely for counting down the days to Christmas and taking chocolate from off a calendar. After years of neglect, now in my old age, the penny has dropped as to its importance. One discovery made is the coming that Advent looks forward to is not when Christ entered the world for the first time, as a helpless baby, but when he comes into the world the second time, as king to reign in glory.

According to Wikipedia: “Advent is a season observed in many Western Christian churches as a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The term is an anglicized version of the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”. Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from two different perspectives. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming“. It should be noted that the Old Testament talks more about the second coming than the first and there is little to indicate these are two different comings with a large time gap in-between. I got thinking about the meaning of Advent when my Pastor made this the subject of the sermons he preached during this period, on the three parables Jesus told in Matthew 25, which are all about his second coming.

The first of these parables is that of five wise and five foolish virgins, who were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive, and had to do so for a long time. The wise virgins had oil for their lamps such that could go and joyfully go and meet the bridegroom when his arrival was announced. The foolish did not and were excluded from the celebrations. The second parable was about a master that went on a long journey but before doing so he entrusted talents to his three servants, according to their abilities, to use wisely and were expected to invest and make a return. Two of the servants did just that and when the master did return he was pleased and rewarded them. One servant buried his talent such that upon his return the master was angry and cast out the worthless servant. The third parable was regarding the separation of the sheep and the goats, which happens when the Son of Man returns. The sheep had fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, taken the stranger in, clothed the naked and visited the sick and those in prison. They were given an eternal reward. The goats who did not do these things were consigned to everlasting fire. The applications seem clear: Jesus is coming back and, while he may delay and his timing will not be known, he expects us to be doing what the wise virgins, faithful servants and sheep were doing and we will be rewarded (or not) accordingly. The message is clear and sombre. It is about being ready for Christ’s coming again. The question all of us need to face is are we ready?

When the person who led today’s worship in my church made a statement to the effect: “I love Christmas; I hope you do too“, I couldn’t help but make a wry smile and the two words that crossed my mind were “bah” and “humbug“, not very Christian maybe but it was partly because my own Christmas memories have not always been happy ones, and the sentimental slosh and materialistic focus that these days have largely squeezed out the more religious aspects do not particularly gel. I thought about yesterday when we played Christmas carols at my homeless night shelter, partly as an antidote to some of the irritating Christmas music one gets to hear around this time, when someone made the point that some of our guests might feel similarly as I had done that got me further thinking.While Advent provides an opportunity for serious contemplation and sober reflection, it points to the hope that can be found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the one and only true hope for humankind, along with the message so much needed today, given to the shepherds when the baby Jesus was born, of peace on earth and good will to men.

This isn’t the time to be overly dismissive of Christmas, even though the religious element has been diluted. While I don’t like what Christmas has become in many quarters, I see the merit of focusing on the positives and recognizing this is important for some. If we do think about the Advent theme, it can bring the necessary meaning to Christmas and become a time of great joy and celebration as well as a marvelous opportunity for sharing Christ’s love, both in word and deed, and in all sorts of ways. The simple, yet profound truth that “our God was contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man” has enormous ramifications. The main point to make is concerning the reason for the season – Jesus Christ, God incarnate, came into the world 2000 years ago as a helpless baby in order to save all who believe and put the world to right. At the time, the message of peace and goodwill to all humankind was proclaimed, yet 33 years later He died on the cross for our sins, on Good Friday, and the world has remained a troubled place ever since. Yet on the third (Easter) day He rose again triumphant over death and evil. We look forward to the day when He will come for a second time, as King in all His glory and reign in righteousness and justice! Now, all that remains for me to do is to wish readers a Merry Christmas, mindful these are not mere words but behind them is a profound, life changing truth.

P.S. The words and music of the twelfth century hymn “Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel” continue to excite, enchant and enthrall!

And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.2Thessalonians 1:7-10

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