Advent – A Preparation for Christ’s Coming*

Secular society knows a little something about Christmas but virtually nothing about Advent. The danger for the Church is to end up going in this same direction. In our rush to get to the manger, we are tempted to downplay-or completely ignore-the Advent themes that the Church has long believed are necessary so that we can come to the cradle of Christ in the right way.

What are some of these necessary forerunners to Christmas?

The Apocalypse:

Traditionally the Church has begun the Advent Season with a look at one of Jesus’ apocalyptic sayings, which in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke come very near the end of his ministry and just prior to his arrest and crucifixion. Advent begins by looking to the end of all things as well as to the ongoing travails of history that ultimately bring us to the end.

  • Why? Because if Jesus is not coming again, then there is very little to celebrate in his having arrived here on earth in the first place. If a future judgment on sin is not possible, then the birth of Jesus is reduced to quaint sentimentality and is restricted to being an event long ago and far away. The first advent of the Christ is drained of meaning if the second advent is bracketed or denied.

John the Baptist:

If you look at the average crèche or manger scene that people display, sometimes you find surprising figures there. The Wise Men or Magi are often included, even though it appears they visited Jesus well after his birth (and so did not rub shoulders with the shepherds). Here and there even a Santa Claus makes a manger-side appearance! But the one figure you never see in such displays-and the one figure who appears on no Christmas cards or ornaments or other decorations-is John the Baptist. Yet the Church has traditionally said that John the Baptist is the necessary Advent forerunner for Jesus.

  • Why? Because Jesus came to die for our sins. We need to acknowledge that we have sins in the first place to be ready gladly to welcome Jesus’ arrival. Think of it this way: if a plumber shows up at your door one day but you are unaware of any leaky pipes or other plumbing needs, you will be mystified by his presence and will likely tell him to go away. But if a plumber happens to come to your door at the very moment you just discovered a pipe had burst and was flooding your basement, you will grab him, haul him into the house, and beg for his help.
  • John gets us ready for Jesus by showing us our sins so that when Jesus arrives on the scene, we will seize on him as the only one who can help us. We cannot have Advent or a proper Christmas without John’s blazing message that calls us to repentance.

* From Calvin Seminary

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