by Rev. Gregory Alms
Advent is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Church Year seasons. It gets no respect. In the mad rush to Christmas, the season of Advent can get pushed aside like hapless shoppers in the way of a bargain at Wal-Mart. When churches try to keep this time of preparation for the birth of Christ and His second coming, people easily get impatient. Where are the Christmas decorations? Why cant we turn on the lights on the tree at church? Why we cant sing more Christmas hymns since we hear them at the mall? When the entire world seems to be awash in Santa and decorations, no one seems to care much about Advent.
But we lose much if we throw away Advent. It has its own special message that helps deepen our faith in Christ, especially in the midst of the consumerist carnival that engulfs December. Advent encourages Christians to have a proper attitude toward possessions. It teaches us that waiting and faith are central to our Christian lives, and it prepares our hearts to receive and welcome Christ. Advent is the antidote for the commercial Christmas frenzy and a template for our entire Christian lives.
We want so much when the season of gifts rolls around. But Advent says that this worlds treasures are temporary. The lessons and hymns for the end of the Church Year and Advent proclaim that this world will soon end. The possessions and things we so ardently wish for will be burned up with fire: Flames on flames will ravage earth, as Scripture long has warned us (LSB 508).
But presents cannot give us what we truly desire. Advent tells us that what we really want for Christmas is to be joined to our Creator, who made us in His image. The hymns of Advent repeatedly express this longing and desire for Christ. We call out, O, come desire of nations (LSB 357), and we pray, Come thou long expected Jesus (LSB 338). Only the Son of God who comes in human flesh in the manger, dies on the cross and will soon return can fill this desire.
Advent reorients all our frantic wanting and points it to the manger. The Word of God takes on our flesh to fill us with Himself, making us partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He takes on our flesh in order to blot out our sins with His blood.
Indeed, the one who comes to us from heaven is our hearts true desire. Blessed is He whom comes in the name of the Lord (Ps. 118:26). Advent tells us we are empty, hungry sinners but proclaims even more loudly that the One who can fill us will soon appear.
The time of Advent also teaches us that we must wait. Even the commercial Christmas is filled questions like, How many days until Christmas?
Advent in the church is also a season of not yet. Another way of saying this is that Christians live by faith. As the letter to the Hebrews tells us, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).
Living by faith means waiting for what is not yet here. Christ promises to return and to bring the new heaven and the new earth where all tears are wiped away. But while we wait, we hear Gods Word, cling to His promises and endure suffering.
In reality, all our life is one big Advent season. Christians are always called to be watchful, and thus we ponder our need for a Savior as well as our sin and mortality. This is a lesson that we absorb now but practice all year long: repentance, faith and waiting for the One who comes in our flesh to die for us, take away our sin and one day return.
Advent also directs us to Jesus presence among us now by pointing us to the Virgin Mary. Mary had her own Advent season before she gave birth to Jesus, but Marys season of waiting was not an empty one. Instead, she was filled by the Word of God, and she received that Word in faith.
That welcoming is what the church does now. As we wait for Christmas and Christs final coming, we are not alone. Christ is not far from us. We welcome Him as Mary did: hearing His Word and receiving it in faith. When Gods Word is proclaimed to us, Christ comes and is present with us. The Holy Spirit, working through the Word just as He did with Mary, creates faith in us so that we might receive Christ. Then, the church, like Mary, is filled with His presence by being filled with His Word.
Advent is a time to want and to wait, but it is also a time for all of us to welcome Christ by hearing His voice and believing in it. The church receives Christ but also gives birth to Him through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments, through the faithful witness of men and women in the world in their vocations and through their sharing of the love and message of Christ.
This Advent, dont be so quick to hurry on to Christmas. Hear what the hymns and Scriptures have to say. What we truly want is a Savior, and while we wait for Him, we fill ourselves with His Word. Someday soon we will welcome His glorious coming, joining with Him and all the saints in the feast that never ends.
About the Author: The Rev. (Paul) Gregory Alms is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Catawba, N.C.