Even Christians who practice the season of Advent sometimes have trouble explaining exactly what Advent is.
It is not the Christmas season, despite what Kmart, Walmart and all the other retailers would have you believe. In the church, Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve, and stretches through Epiphany on Jan. 6. Thus, the song “Twelve Days of Christmas.”
I realize I’m probably fighting a losing battle on the issue of when the Christmas season begins. Commercialism has overwhelmed the church calendar, and by the time Dec. 25 arrives, most people want to say, “I’m done.” I’m just concerned that Advent gets squashed in all of this.
Advent by itself is a special time, one where we reflect on anticipation and promises. We do think and talk a lot about the birth of Christ. His birth was, after all, the fulfillment of thousands of years of hopeful waiting by the Jews for a deliverer, a reconnection to God. So Advent does appropriately lead to Christmas.
It leads somewhere else, however. During Advent, we consider our present-day anticipation, our own desire for Christ’s return. Once we take on the moniker “Christian,” the concepts surrounding Advent should be one of the key drivers in how we live our lives.
Along with the declarations about Jesus we make in the Easter season, the Advent season has embedded in it the concepts that make us obnoxious to people of other faiths and nonbelievers. If you really understand the biblical texts around Advent and their related texts, it’s hard to be a universalist—to say that basic goodness or the underlying concepts found in all religions somehow restore us to God.
In the Old Testament, the prophets spoke of a time when God would re-establish control over all creation. In the New Testament, we understand Jesus as the path to this event. By going to the cross as a sinless man, Jesus broke the power of sin so we can stand with God and, appropriately, bow before our creator and worship in holiness, just as we were originally made to do. We understand Jesus to be God among us, at work even today through the Holy Spirit, another manifestation of God.
A handful of Christians try to make negotiable this idea of belief in Jesus as the only way to salvation, but most do not. I certainly do not. Again and again, the Bible gives us images of Jesus as the ultimate focus for creation. In the end, all eyes are upon him; every knee bows in his direction.
This concept becomes a driver for our lives because the Bible also describes the arrival of Christ as sudden and complete. The timing is a complete mystery; “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” we are told in Matthew 24:36.
Don’t believe it when people tell you certain events have to occur before Christ’s return. Such ideas lull us into a dangerous complacency. We should live as if Christ could return before you finish reading this column.
When we live in such a way, we live as people filled with excitement. This is joyous anticipation! As believers, we do not cringe in fear of a smiting—we await the one who saves us, the giver of grace, the one who frees us from pain, death and all the other shackles of sin.
Rejoice that Advent is here, and that for all we know, the risen Christ may arrive even before the Christmas season.