Advent anyone? Some may associate the season of Advent with a wreath of candles, or a cute wooden advent calendar with little doors, or even the papermade kind . The candles would be lit each Sunday. The little wooden, or paper, doors would be opened up each day leading up to Christmas Day--some enclosing a special treat or a fun activity to do.
But what does Advent really mean? Advent is an intentional season, in the liturgical calendar, of remembrance and expectation. Remembrance in regards to the first coming of Christ. And more importantly the expectation of the second coming of Christ. The theological terminology for the second coming is sometimes referred to as Parousia (1 Thess 4:15, 16). Parousia is a greek word that is most easily defined (I emphasize most easily as the translation of any biblical language is exceedingly complex, and even complex is an understatement (; ) as "presence" or "arrival", depending on the context that it is found in. This is term is used primarily in Paul's letters. It is important to note that the term the "second Advent" is not found in Paul's letters; rather Justin Martyr (approx 110AD) was one of the first theologians to denote a distinction between the first advent of Christ (Christ's birth) and a second advent (the return of christ). Another important theological term is Eschatology. This word is rooted in the greek word, ἔσχατος, which means "last", thus you could understand the meaning of Eschatology as "the study of the last", and is most popularly understood as the study of the end times (apocalyptic, etc), theologically speaking. The debates that surround this subject are plentiful, exhaustive and can seem very ambiguous, therefore I do not intend to discuss them in detail here (a good resource to discuss this would be Oden's Systematic Theology, Vol 3). It is important to note that Paul's eschatological theme is rooted in a conceptualization that the inauguration of the eschaton (the last) was begun with the resurrection of Christ. His understanding of the period between the Resurrection and the Return (the Parousia) is illustrated in the "now" and the "not yet"in regards to the Kingdom of God. After the resurrection of Christ, a new order was begun, and is still in process of becoming new, looking forward to a final fulfillment of God's Kingdom. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes "the old has passed away, behold the new has come". This newness is rooted in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, wherein Jesus is Lord of all of creation. This Lordship, or Kingdom, language is one of the ways in which Paul conceptualizes this current time between Christ's resurrection and His Return; and he "tends to talk of the kingdom of God/Christ as if it is something awaited in the future" (Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, IVP, 257).
This future return, or future hope, is re-lived again and again the season of Advent in the liturgical calendar.
And though the debates over the how's and when's of the "end of time" and the return of Christ will continue, as long as there are theologians and denominations, there is a way to enter into Advent with a new perspective. Christmas is the season when we remember and reflect upon the incarnation of Christ (Emmanuel, God with us, the Word made flesh) and the purpose of His First Coming; and Advent is an important part of preparing for that season as we reflect upon the coming of Christ's in His birth and look forward to the coming of the Lord and King of all Creation. We reflect, we remember. Why? Because we are a forgetting kind of people. Piles of rocks called Ebenezer's appear in narratives in the Bible because people forget. We need piles of rocks, altars, symbols, songs and even good literature, to remind us of God's great acts of deliverance. The Jews had passover, a remembrance of their deliverance from Egypt!); and born from that wonderful remembrance is the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist, the remembrance of God's deliverance of humanity from sin through the sacrificial death and powerful resurrection of the Christ.
So Advent anyone? This year, I am putting together my Advent Calendar, and yes, it is chock full of fun activities for my family to participate in, from building gingerbread houses to making ornaments. Yet there is infinitely more to this Advent season realized in part through lighting of the candles and the readings of the scripture each of the four Sundays. I pray today that you and I both can fully participate in the reflection and remembrance of Christ's first coming and His second not apart from the fun and enjoyment of this season's activities but in the midst of those activities. He is there with us today and always. Let us remember Him and look ahead to hope.