What is Advent to you? The smell of mulled wine, the moment when it is socially acceptable to play Christmas music in the office, the inevitable stress that comes with the run up to Christmas? With Christmas adverts starting on the TV from 1st November, and snowflakes in the shop windows since the day after Halloween, you would be forgiven for thinking that the approach to Christmas gets longer and longer each year.
You might be surprised to find that Advent originally had little to do with Christmas, and was in fact the preparation phase for people wanting to be baptised. In the early church, people would be baptised at Epiphany, which is when the church also commemorates Jesus’ baptism. Advent was the forty day preparation before Epiphany. It wasn’t until the 6th century that the church used Advent (from the Latin word ‘adventus’ which means ‘coming’) to start to think about preparing spiritually for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.
If Advent is a season of preparation, then what are we preparing ourselves for? For the people of the Bible, there were huge preparations to make – during Advent, Mary has a visitation from an angel who tells her she is with child. She must have felt tremendous shock and apprehension – but since we have heard the story so many times, we sometimes take it for granted. We can’t feign ignorance every year, only to awake on 25th December with a sigh of relief and the hushed exclamation, “It’s a boy!”
If we just recite this familiar story again without thinking about it, we can overlook one of the most astonishing facts in history: God became human. This idea sets Christianity apart from all other faiths, because God not only walked among us but he became one of us, inhabiting the same flesh and blood. In church language we refer to this as ‘incarnation’. One of the names given to Jesus in the Bible is Emmanuel, meaning ‘God with us’. This is an outrageous idea if we really think about it – if God created the universe, why would he choose to become as small and frail as you or me?
Advent is about understanding this question of why God came to us as Jesus, and it is also about waiting. Since we live in the time after Jesus’ life, we are not literally waiting for his birth every year. However, we do live with the expectation that Jesus will come again – the Christian hope is that life does not end with death, and instead we will be reunited with Christ in heaven, or when he returns to Earth.
When we celebrate advent, we remember the awesome truth that God came to us once, and we trust that He will come again. I think this is a wonderful illustration of faith – faith is believing that what has happened before will happen again! So in this season of Advent, may we stay joyful and remember that our Emmanuel will come to us once more.
O come, O come Emmanuel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel
Rev Roland Slade
Curate at All Saints Marlow
For this and many more stories about what is going on within our church, download your latest copy of The Bridge – the magazine of All Saints Marlow.