Advent, a Latin-borrowed term for something that is coming into view, is mostly used to refer to Jesus’ first arrival on earth the first Christmas day. However, in church history the birth of Jesus did not get a lot of press or attention. Some Christ-followers even disdained its celebration as too aligned to pagan Saturnalia practices of ancient Roman days; a festival of debauchery associated to the winter solstice, when the days begin to get longer after the autumn’s longer shadows have stretched the night to its maximum. The Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock fame actually made Christmas celebration illegal for their colony.
“Advent” in its current incarnation, refers to the four weeks prior to Christmas, celebrated by most Christians as December 25, though the actual date of Jesus’ birth is unknown. Each week is commemorated with a special focus of a blessing that will come into the world with the “coming of Jesus.” Hope, Peace, Joy and Love are the four themes, usually marked by the lighting of candles and recitation of Scripture on these ideas. These practices of Advent probably began sometime before 400 C.E. and were established as a church practice by the second Council of Tours in 567 with monks being required to begin a regular fasting schedule from December 1 to the 25th.
Some churches will rearrange the order of the themes; some substitute Faith for one of them, and some add a fifth candle, The Christ Candle, for lighting on Christmas Day. In any case, this is not a Scriptural design, but serves as a reminder to Christians of various themes of Jesus first time on earth.
However, when the Church began celebrating the Advent season of Christ’s birth, the focus was not so much on fuzzy good feelings of the commercial season we now see. Rather they were laser focused on how He came to begin the process by which He would “judge the living and the dead,”
Evangelism was not shrouded in anger and antagonism at sin and heretics, but joyful communication of the recognition that God would set all injustices right; He would heal all diseases; He would establish His throne on earth to rule in love and holiness. What He began with His first Advent would end with His glorious return; thus, the judgement of Jesus was part of the Good News! The judgement day was not about gleefully consigning neighbors and the mass of non-Christians to eternal hell, but about helping anyone with a heart for good to participate in Jesus’ final victory over Martin Luther’s “three cosmic enemies of Christ,” sin, death and the devil.
In antiquity Christ-followers cared little about Jesus’ birthday but focused on two other major events in space-time history: the Resurrection and Jesus’ Second Coming, i.e., His Advent back into the world for the second time. He specifically warned His followers to beware of false “christs” (anointed ones) and to avoid setting a date for His return. (See Matthew 24.)
When Jesus left the earth, angels reaffirmed that He was not gone permanently, but would “come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” The disciples, some 500+ of them, waited in Jerusalem for His promise to send the Holy Ghost. This occurred 50 days after His resurrection on the Day of Pentecost, and the New Covenant He had instituted with His apostles at the last supper was initiated. Under His direction they were to tell everyone that Jesus is the Son of God and will forgive the sins of anyone who repents and follows Jesus. They proceeded to fill Jerusalem with this message, spread it to all Judea, reach out to Samaria and eventually to the “ends of the earth.”
We are there – the ends of the earth, about as far removed geographically as one can get from Jerusalem, the exact antipode being somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. And this message is being translated into almost every known language on earth, so that this Gospel (good news) has reached nearly the whole world, precipitating Jesus’ second coming. Keep in mind that of the languages in which Bible translation has not begun, many have access to Bibles in similar languages to their “heart language” and many are very small ethnic groups. Wycliffe Global Alliance estimates 6,000,000,000 people have a full Bible available with another 22% having partial translations, meaning 97% of the world’s 8,000,000,000 have access to the truth of the Good News!
Now regarding this “Second Coming” there is a lot of confusion. Jesus was intentionally vague about “the day and the hour” because He did not want someone to think, “My master is delayed,” (Matthew 24:45-51) and slip into selfish behaviors, ignoring that our Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6) knows our hearts at all times (Psalm 139:1-16). There were even those in the first century C.E. that believed Jesus had already returned (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4). And so confusion continues today, whether Jesus will return at the beginning of a seven-year period called The Tribulation, in the middle of it or at its end. But of this we can be certain: “the day of the Lord WILL come.”
Do you believe Jesus was who He claimed He was? There is no getting around the idea that He claimed to be THE Son of God. He was not just some nice philosopher with some gentle teaching. If you read the Gospels, the first four books of the New Testament, you will be struck not only by how egalitarian He was among the Jews and Samaritans (leftovers from the Babylonian captivity), but by His egomaniacal claim to be One with God. Even His enemies recognized this claim and in fact, was the basis for their intention to crucify Him.
So this year, as you sign Christmas cards or fill out ecards online, as you put up your tree or outside lights, recognize that Jesus’ first Advent was just a precursor to another Advent that will joyously tear the fabric of space and time and usher in an age of the earth such as we have never seen since the Garden of Eden.
Marantha, even so, come again, Lord Jesus.