December is a very busy month for most of us. There is shopping and baking to do in anticipation of holiday parties. Families with children are preparing for winter break. Plans are being made to host relatives and friends who are coming to town for a visit. In all of the busyness and excitement of these events, it is easy to forget the real meaning of the season.
We recognize the four weeks that precede the feast of Christmas as the Advent season. The name derives from the Latin adventus, which means “arrival” or “coming.” Thus, Advent is a time of waiting in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah into the world. But which coming? The obvious answer is the incarnation of Jesus Christ and His birth in Bethlehem of Judea. In this sense, then, we can think of Christmas, the culmination of the Advent season, as a “looking back” in gratitude for the gift God gave us in His Son.
The Sunday Scripture readings for Advent overflow with references to an eager anticipation of things to come. Take, for example, the Fourth Sunday of Advent where we hear Micah proclaim the prophecy about tiny Bethlehem’s destiny as the place and the people from which the Messiah shall come to shepherd God’s holy ones and bring peace to the land (Micah 5:2-5). Likewise, in the Gospel reading, we hear Mary’s song of praise for the tenderness of God’s love that had been showered upon His lowly servant in making her the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55).
But Advent is not just about looking back in time to the incarnation of God’s Son in that little town of Bethlehem. It is also about looking forward with eager longing for another coming, the second coming of God’s Son to establish the fullness of God’s kingdom on earth. The opening phrase of the Old Testament reading for the First Sunday of Advent reads, “The days are surely coming” (Jer 33:14). We typically think of this Second Coming as a time of judgment and a time to be feared. But if we look and listen carefully, the Scripture readings of the Advent season invite us to ponder a greater reality. We are reminded that “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psa 25:10). We are encouraged to take off the garment of our sorrow and “put on forever the beauty of the glory from God” (Baruch 5:1) so that we may “walk safely in the glory of God” (Baruch 5:7).
Even as we find ourselves overwhelmed by the obligations and opportunities of December, let us take time to ponder the wonders of this season of Advent as we await with great expectation the coming of our God.
Catherine Cory, Ph.D. / Theological Council Member