The Season of Advent: A Journey of Expectation

Advent is a corporate spiritual journey that calls for expectant waiting and readiness for the coming of Christ. When the church travels this journey and treats it as a discipline of life and prayer, the joy of Christmas is immeasurably intensified.

What we do during Advent finds its meaning in the Pasch, the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ was born to die and to be raised to new life for the sake of the world’s redemption. Therefore Advent is never celebrated as a season to itself, but the season in which the one who has died for the restoration of the world is awaited. The Light for which we wait in Advent is the Light that dispels the darkness at Easter. Incarnation and atonement must always be brought together as two vital parts of the redemption tapestry.

The word advent means “coming.” During Advent, we celebrate the coming of Christ at Bethlehem, his coming into our hearts, and his Second Coming. For four weeks before Christmas, our worship calls us into a time to wait for the coming of the Lord. We begin at what may seem a distance from the coming of Christ in Bethlehem and proceed closer each week to the birth. Thus worship during the first two weeks emphasizes the second coming of Christ and the need to prepare for his return.

The preparations we make for the second coming of Christ are similar to the preparations Israel was making for the coming of the Messiah. Terms such as hope, eager anticipation, longing, and looking toward the day all express the kind of inner feeling Israel had as it waited for the Messiah. Those descriptive terms likewise capture the feelings we Christians have as we await the consummation of history and the redemption of all things.

But readiness is more than a feeling. It includes moral and spiritual preparation, the kind alluded to by Peter when he wrote, “What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11, NKJV). Consequently, a life of godly conduct is emphasized in the Scripture readings of the first two weeks of Advent.

Starting with the third week of Advent, the emphasis shifts to the feeling of joy. Since the day of his appearing is coming closer, the accent falls on what Christ will do in his coming. Both his first and second comings are related to salvation, redemption, the renewal of Creation, the restoration of all things to the Father, and the sure destruction of evil. Since the putting down of the devil and his kingdom of darkness makes way for joy, the sense of that emotion is captured in the Scriptures, antiphons, hymns, prayers, and instruction of the third week.

In the fourth week of Advent, we are brought closer to the event of Jesus’ birth. Consequently, the accent or our worship falls on the Incarnation: God with us. In this service, we are drawn up into the rejoicing of those immediately involved in the events surrounding the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ. We listen or sing together the Annunciation to Mary and Mary’s great response, the Magnificat. These readings, together with the prayers and antiphons, bring us closer to Christ and increase our anticipation for his birth.