In churches across the world, the anticipation of Christmas is an exciting and busy time of year. There are cantatas to sing, children’s pageants to watch, cookie exchanges to bake for, “Secret Santa” to shop for, poinsettias and wreaths and boughs of evergreen galore. It is beautiful and hectic and, here in Michigan, cold and snowy. In the hustle and the bustle, we hear about this Advent. But what is it? I’ve read that. I’ve heard that. What does it mean? Why do we need to add something more to this season?
I’m glad you asked.
Advent is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “the fact of an event happening, an invention being made, or a person arriving.” They use the advent of the steam engine as an example for the word’s use, but as Christians, as the Church, we know it is so much more than a word or an idea we hear once a year before Christmas! Our Advent has come and changed the course of history. The person for whom we waited, His life and His work on our behalf is the crux of how we live our lives in the mundane, daily tasks as well as how we respond to life’s “big deals.”
You see, the person whose arrival was pending has indeed come!
He has lived.
He has died!
He was buried.
He has resurrected!
And He LIVES!
That is the Christ. That is our reality. His birth marked the beginning of a journey which demonstrated His perfect obedience. His birth represented a new and better Adam coming to point us back to God, right our wrongs, heal and work and teach and lead and love and call us to repent—and He did it all perfectly in the way we have no hope of doing on our own!
Without this Advent, apart from the silence, outside of the waiting, if it weren’t for the anticipation, Christmas itself has little depth. Without the coming of the Christ, the New Testament is empty. Without the coming of the Christ, other events such as Lent, Good Friday, Resurrection Sunday, and Pentecost mean nothing. The waiting, the longing for the event brings such beautiful growth in us as we must lean on God’s faithfulness, His goodness, even in the midst of suspense and hoping.
If the literal and actual Son of the Living God was not conceived of the Holy Spirit, was not woven together in His mama’s womb, was not born, did not live a perfect life, did not obey God to the absolute fullest—even unto death on a cross, bearing the weight of all the sins and guilt and shame of his elect, only to raise from the dead, conquering it all on our behalf, then our religion, our beliefs, our views, and our lives serve no purpose.
If this is simply a story about a “good” guy who has no authority, whose presence and being was not long-anticipated, then this is all for nought.
It is real.
The advent was hard.
The waiting was long.
The anticipation was arduous, even for God’s remnant, and many in Israel went astray. They fell away from God. The people turned away from Him in their waiting.
Then, it happened!
On what I imagine was a cold, starry night in the desert city, people gathered. Bethlehem was filled to the brim with movement from people gathered for the census. Perhaps there was much laughter with loved ones from afar, food and drinks and smells and memories being made.
Then there was the birth of our Christ, the Savior King.
The single event upon which all the other celebrations on the Christian worship and liturgical calendar rests. The King has come! Without His incarnation, nothing else matters. But, by His grace, we are saved through faith, sealed by His Spirit, given to lead and guide and comfort us.
Because we have Advent as a reminder leading up to the celebration of Christmas, we get to experience the Advent of Easter each spring. We have the gift of an eternal hope in this Advent, waiting for Christ’s second coming or our death which has lost its sting, and rather ushers us into His Kingdom. We get to watch His kingdom grow now through the reading and preaching of His Word, through week-to-week fellowship with our covenant communities, in our families, and more.
When we talk about “Advent,” it’s more than just waiting, but a longing with a hope-filled trust. As staff members, as Children’s Ministry Directors, we have the opportunity to share the awe and wonder that it brings. The reality that my God would send His only Son from heavenly glory to this dusty and bloody and prickly place to swoop down and rescue me in my sin is so much deeper than the busyness that the rest of the season brings. We minister—to those longing for health, financial relief, restored relationships—in light of a God who has promised to make every valley filled up, every mountain made low (Isaiah 40). On this side of the cross, we anticipate Christ’s second coming. Because Christ came, we can trust that this same God will be faithful; He will work all things together for good for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
We don’t keep this to ourselves. How can we? Why should we? It is big, but not overwhelming to explain to our people. At our church, Advent is such a sweet time of year. We realized that many of our families knew when Advent season was happening but assumed it meant the four weeks before Christmas. We decided that we needed to inform, to teach, to share, and to encourage them to understand more deeply. To do this, we hosted an event for our families where we shared the beauty of this season, the intentionality of the singing, worship, and the way we come together to recite Confessions of Faith, etc. We explained the slight changes made by our Worship Leader and Pastor that only happen this time of year. We broke down what each word, each week is focused on from Love to Hope and Faith and Joy. We had families create a centerpiece with jars and battery-operated candles to remind them to continue the conversation at home.
It doesn’t need to become a grand event or take a ton of time, but it is certainly an important topic to discuss with the church. You could add a snippet about Advent to your weekly newsletter, share a special announcement during worship services, to explore the meaning behind the anticipatory season and to exhort one another regarding the depth and the intentionality behind the way we worship differently during this season of Advent.
Advent truly shows us how to ready our hearts for the long-expected Jesus. We can wait on the Lord as Isaiah 40:31 reminds us, knowing that our strength shall be renewed, and we will mount on wings like eagles, we shall run and never grow weary! This is the hope that came when sweet, baby Jesus was born. This was the gift given to us from God Himself after silently watching and being faithful to His chosen people—even to us many generations later! Advent, leading us to the Christmas celebrations we know and love, is a tremendous part of the beautiful story, His story, in which we get to participate, watching for our God to show up, to rescue us from sin and death, to renew our strength, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt. 11:30). That is the Advent. That is the depth of the waiting, even in the hustle and bustle of life in the 21st century.
 Cambridge University Dictionary, s.v. “advent” accessed June 27, 2023, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/advent