Advent Begins In the Dark
When I was a child, Advent was primarily a time of anticipation of presents and the celebration of Christmas. We watched the candles being lit in the Presbyterian church we belonged to and listened to the explanations of what each one stood for, but my brothers and I were much more interested in the candy from the Advent calendars and the presents that were coming.
It wasn’t until I was eleven or twelve that I began to take the season a little more seriously. Even then, it was primarily, and almost exclusively, tied to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. However, Advent is traditionally about much more. I want to talk a bit about that much more, but first, I think a brief history of Advent would help set the stage.
Nobody really knows when the celebration of Advent first started. It was likely during the fourth and fifth centuries that Advent was a time where new believers prepared themselves for baptism and inclusion into the local Christian community. Sometime during the Middle Ages, Advent took on the practice of waiting for the second coming of Christ. This likely came from the Latin word adventus (which means “coming”) and is the Latin translation of the Greek word used for the second coming, parousia. Advent emphasized the preparation of our hearts for the second coming of Christ during this time period. It was a time of fasting, praying, and examining one’s life. If one follows the liturgical calendar and the readings for Advent today, the season is a mix of anticipation of the birth of Christ and of the second coming. But, in practice, most of us today only focus on the incarnation.
However, Advent is a time of preparation for the incarnation – a time of taking inventory of our lives and the darkness of the world around us. It was not meant to be the extended celebration of Christmas but preparation for that celebration. As Fleming Rutledge says, “Advent is the season that, when properly understood, does not flinch from darkness that stalks us all in this world. Advent begins in the dark and moves toward the light – but the season should not move too quickly or too glibly, lest we fail to acknowledge the depth of the darkness.”1
I would like to encourage you to take what little bit of Advent is left and spend some time in reflection. Sing some songs like “O’ Come, O’ Come, Emmanuel” and go through some of the assigned readings from the Revised Common Lectionary (available online). It is true that God has brought a great light into this world, and that the celebration of the birth of Jesus should be a party!
However, remember, Advent begins in the dark. Yes, we are looking forward to His second coming and celebrating His birth. Yet, there still is much darkness in the world around us. Let us spend time in reflection and preparation in anticipation of His return and the celebration of His incarnation.
Blessings to you all,