The word Advent is derived from the Latin adventus, which means “the approach” or “the arrival.” The verb is advenio: “I arrive. I come. I am coming.”
As a season of the Christian year, Advent is ancient. It goes back at least to the middle of the sixth century. Already then its observance defined not only the One who was coming, but also those who were faithfully and self-consciously waiting. It defined the peculiar people who looked forward to the coming of that One.
By the thirteenth century, the Church universal had recognized the season of Advent as the beginning of its year. Advent consisted of four Sundays, the first of which was New Year’s Day for Christians everywhere — and so it was that Advent also defined the times, endings and beginnings, the past and the present, as well as the future when the Blessed One would come.
For nearly one thousand five hundred years Christians have spent the days of Advent not in passive inaction, but in activities strenuous and profitable: they have prepared themselves by scrubbing and cleaning their lives, by examining and repairing their souls — even as people generally prepare themselves body and home to receive a visitor of ineffable importance.
The Son of man, he is coming. Jesus. That one. Him.
And we are the people who await him. You and I. Since it was for us he died, we are the ones who wait in love. And since he ascended to heaven with promises to return, we wait in faith — for at the next and final Advent, Jesus will take us as friends, as brothers and sisters into his house forevermore.
And when will he get here? Like any New Year’s Day: at the end and the beginning.
But that Advent to come — the final arrival of Jesus in glory — will itself cause the end of this present age and the beginning of our eternal joy. When will that be? Ah, my friend, I do not know. No one knows its day or hour. Therefore Jesus commands us to “Watch. Stay awake. Get ready. Prepare, prepare — and watch!”
Finally, then, how shall we prepare? In these days, while yet there are days and time, by what activity should we make ourselves ready?
Why, by meditating on his first coming — for though the future may be hidden from us the past is not, and the one can teach us the other.
The story of the birth of Jesus is open before us. We have a spiritual and holy account of the time when God himself directed preparations for that first coming of his Son into the world. What God ordains is always good. Therefore, those preparations may be the perfect pattern for our own this year again, this year too.
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy! The people who heard the news of that first Advent were no less human than we. They moved through complex stages of response: doubt, fear, questioning, the obedience of love, the obedience of legalism, joy and song, despair and anger. There were groups of people, shepherds, the Magi, innocent children; there were individuals, Zachariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna, Herod. Some concluded their preparations in faith. Some in fury. Any one of these might be you, my friend. Or me. But we have the advantage, now, of meditation: in quietness and confidence to choose the right response, and, by the grace of the present Spirit of Jesus, to practice the right preparation for the coming of the Lord in Glory.
So let us enter the story one more time. In this present season of Advent let us experience the infant’s Advent in the past and so make ourselves ready for the Advent of the Lord of Glory in the future.