What is Advent and why does it matter?

Guest contribution by Shawna Kosel

Advent: a coming, an approach, an arrival.  It is the season of anticipation and waiting that leads up to Christmas.  Advent begins four Sundays before December 25th.  Sometimes that is the last Sunday in November, others it is the first Sunday in December.

For four weeks we are re-enacting the anticipation that was felt for thousands of years by God’s people as they longed for the coming of God’s salvation, Jesus.

1 Peter 1:10-12 - “Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.”

Re-enactments help us remember. Think of our most precious re-enactments in communion and baptism.  In these ordinances we re-enact the most essential realities of our faith - our union with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection and our complete dependence on his sacrifice that has made us able to approach the throne of God.  

Advent is a re-enactment of the waiting and anticipation of the coming messiah.  It is a remembering.  And we really do need to remember, because we are just like the Israelites who always forget.  We are a forgetting people.  Our stressed-out lives, our non-caring attitudes, our stuck in the depths of despair faces are all evidence of our forgetting.  

Of course, we don’t just think of Christ coming that one time - in the flesh in Bethlehem as a baby.  We must remember that Christ Jesus comes into our hearts daily.  We are constantly in need of the intimate presence of Jesus in our daily lives.  Advent is a season for reflecting on the specific areas of our lives that need Christ’s presence.  It is a time to remember to ask God to be present, to anticipate his healing, renewal, and restoration.  It is also a time to reflect on the places in our world that are in desperate need of the coming of Christ.  We know that Christ has come, that salvation has arrived, that there is hope!  When we look to those in need - to social injustices, we see and act - and thus re-enact his coming.  When you bring a cup of cold water or give someone in need something to eat you are re-enacting Jesus’ coming.  We might say that you are “adventing.”  If you are my husband, you say that when we do these things, we are “arrivalings.”

Finally, we participate in advent because we are a people who are waiting for Christ’s second coming.  We anticipate with eagerness his return to set all things right.  God has promised to make new the whole world.  Scripture tells us that Christ will return to judge sin and evil, and that He will usher in righteousness and peace. God will purge this world of evil once and for all and then he will be forever united to his bride.

The ancient church traditions of advent are rich and varied.  There are so many different ways to journey through these four weeks both as a community and in your private devotions.  Often there is a word or idea that goes along with each week leading up to the birth of Jesus.  No matter what the theme or focus, each week we will light a candle as we make a meditation on each of these themes.  

One reason that I have found myself pressing into making the church calendar part of my life is because I find myself counting my time for myself - I count my days and fill them with me; I count my weeks and fill them with my busyness; I count my years and fill them with my fears.  And then I find myself astounded with the reality that my time is in the hands of the Lord.  I want Christ to take my time, times of love and times of wariness, to take them all, to bless them and break them, to give them back to me again - slow paced and eager - fixed in His readiness for others.  So I plead with God to occupy my calendar.  If I don’t set aside specific times to think about my Spiritual need and the spiritual need of the whole world, I might never think of it.