Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Advent of Our King

In a world where the celebration of holidays seems to begin earlier and earlier, the season of Advent is easily overshadowed by the high Feast of Christmas.  It is often looked at as a sort of “build up” to or part of Christmas, rather than a season in its own right.  But Advent is more than just a convenient way to count down the days until the Feast of the Nativity.   Historically speaking, Adventide is about preparing for ALL of Christ's Advents.

The English word “advent” is borrowed from the Latin adventus, which simply means “a coming, approach, arrival.”  Understanding Christ’s Nativity as His “First Advent” helps us understand why the season has become so integrally connected with Christmas.  This connection can be clearly seen by looking at the propers prescribed in the historic Lectionary, such as the Communio ("The virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" [Isaiah 7:14]) and Offertory (“Hail, [Mary], highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, [Jesus Christ]” [St. Luke 1:28, 42]) for Rorate Coeli, Advent's Fourth Sunday.   Another subtle reference can be seen in the Introit Antiphon of the same Sunday, where the "Righteousness" and "Salvation" referenced are Christ (these nouns are actually capitalized in the traditional missal, to indicate their reference to the Divine).  When you read it in that context: “You heavens above, rain down Righteousness; let the clouds shower It down.  Let the earth open wide, let Salvation spring up" (Isaiah 45:8); you can see that it's talking about Christ's Incarnation.  In fact, I believe the wonderful Advent hymn, "O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide," is directly referencing this Antiphon and theme.

  Interestingly enough, Christ "rending the heavens wide" can have a dual meaning, that being His Second Advent (or the Parousia [Παρουσία], a Greek word that, incidentally, is translated into Latin as adventus), which is one of the primary causes of our preparation in Advent.  Indeed, the historic Roman Gospel reading for Ad Te Levavi, the First Sunday in Advent, reminds us that we “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory”  (St. Luke 21:27).  In this context, Adventide is about preparing for Christ’s Second Coming - it reminds us to be vigilant like wise virgins (tying into the traditional Hymn of the Day for Ad Te Levavi, “The Bridegroom Soon Will Call Us”).  This also explains the penitential aspects of the season.  Christ’s Second Advent is a somber occassion - one of joy for the believer, to be sure, but one that must be tempered by vigilance and repentance (“watch and pray, so that you do not fall into temptation”).  This is why we omit the Gloria in Excelsis during this season.  It also helps make sense of the other reading on the first Sunday.  The Epistle tells us to "put off the deeds of darkness" because "the day is almost here" (putting off the deeds of darkness is expressed throughout much of Advent hymnody); as pointed out above, the Gospel makes clear what Day that is:  The Coming of the Son of Man on clouds of Glory.

The Adventide bridge between Christ's First and Second Coming is the Third Sunday, Gaudete, which means "Rejoice."  The "rejoice" theme is repeated throughout the propers on the Third Sunday.  In fact, St. Paul's famous Philippians passage, "rejoice in the Lord always," constitutes the historic Introit Antiphon AND Epistle reading.  The emphasis of this theme stems from the day's liturgical nature as a sort of break from the fast of the Advent season.  The parament color is rose, a combination of the penitential violet of Advent and the jubilant white of Christmas.  This highlights why I view it as a "bridge" between the aforementioned Advents; while it isn't a full celebration of Christmas, it is a time for rejoicing!


But we've still only focused on two of Christ's Advents.  What I like to call the "third" Advent is none other than Christ's Present Advent in the Holy Supper.  Luther's little Catechism highlights the preparedness we should have for Christ's Advent in the Sacrament, which is really the same preparation that we should have for Christ's other Advents:  Repentance and faith that believes His promises.  This is why many of the propers throughout the season, like Populus Sion (the Second Sunday)'s Communio and Gradual, tell us to "behold the joy and salvation that come to us;" that God will come to save His people and "gather His holy ones to Himself" (Psalm 50:5).  He has already and will continue to do this, in the Blessed Means of Grace.  In the Holy Supper He comes to us and abides with us, not by our choice or by human means, but - just as in His other two Advents - by the power of God.


Advent is all about being prepared for the coming of Christ.  It is no wonder that St. John the Baptist occupies so much of the focus in the historic Gospel readings ("Prepare the Way of the Lord").  May we all take heed of that voice in the wilderness crying and be cognizant of Christ's First Advent in Bethlehem, His Present Advent in the Holy Eucharist, all as a foretaste of His glorious return.  May we all be prepared for that Second Advent when He shall come on the clouds of heaven with all the Holy Angels to restore the cosmos by the power of His mighty hand, that we whose names are written in His Book of Life may live and reign with Him forever where sorrow is no more.

5 comments:

  1. Could you further explain, "restore the cosmos"? Cosmos is another word for the universe which God created and which Scripture teaches in 2 Peter 3:10, "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up." Clearly not a restoration of the universe.

    Thank you,
    Brett Meyer

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  2. Brett,

    If you read further, in verse 13 St. Peter tells us "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." This is in accord with Christ's sure promise in the Apocalypse, where He says "Behold, I make all things new" (21:5). By "restored" I simply meant what St. Paul says in chapter 5 of Romans: "The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now" (vv. 20-22). The universe itself will be delivered, because Christ will make it new, restoring it to its former Edenic glory on account of the redemptive and liberating work of Christ. This is paralleled by our own recreation now and the physical newness we will enjoy when our Old Man is finally done away with.

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  3. Pardon me, that was chapter 8 of Romans, not 5.

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  4. Thank you for your reply. Your quotes are appreciated. To my point - "new heavens and new earth" does not support the idea that the existing universe will be restored. Also Romans 5 does not reference restoral either but is reference to the last days and the expectation of something new - not something restored.

    Matt. 24:35, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." Likewise with Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33 and again 2 Peter 3:10

    No restoral of existing universe but a new heaven and new earth.

    I appreciate your time.

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  5. We all shall pass away, Brett, but Christ shall nonetheless "make all things new." The universe will surely be destroyed, just as surely as our flesh shall be destroyed. But it shall be raised new, as it was at the beginning.

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