“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
Advent is traditionally the four weeks leading up to Christmas. In the West it also begins the church year. (Eastern tradition begins the church year on Sept. 1.) It starts on the 4th Sunday before Christmas, which is why it often starts on the heels of Thanksgiving.
Our English word comes from the Latin Adventus, meaning “coming.” The Latin is itself a translation from the Greek parousia which refers to the coming of God into the world. Note that this is rather different from “waiting” for an event that has not happened yet. The verb “coming” refers to the process of coming as well as the coming itself. This is why the 12th century Cistercian abbot Bernard of Clairvaux referred to Advent as the three-fold coming of God into the world:
1) The 1st Advent: The coming of Christ into the physical world. We wait for Dec. 25 and the holy Birth, but remember that Mary was already very pregnant! Christ as an unborn baby was already in the world.
2) The 2nd Advent: The coming of Christ’s Spirit – the Holy Spirit — after Jesus’ return to heaven. The Holy Spirit is the coming of the Spirit of Christ into our lives, and our continual growth in Christ.
3) The 3rd Advent: The final coming of Christ to judge the world and create a new heaven and a new earth. This has not happened yet but the Bible warns us again and again to be ready! And being ready means actively doing what we need to do to be ready for Him – prayer, worship, love, studying the Word.
Advent is always dynamic.
Advent in the Past: The 1st Coming of Christ
Now, God may have visited the world in human form before Year 1 A.D. Space and time do not control God and there are places in the Old Testament where the Lord appeared in human form, such as the Lord who spoke face-to-face with Abraham and prophesied the birth of Isaac – and the destruction of Sodom. He may also have been the figure appearing like the son of God in the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel though this may have been an angel.
But we know for certain that Jesus as Messiah was born into the world in Bethlehem and that this coming was prophesied and expected. No Jew should have been surprised at Jesus’ birth! What did surprise them is that the Messiah was born for both Jew AND Gentile – but they should not have been surprised. The prophecies are very clear.
“And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious.” (Is. 11:10)
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, my Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; he will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. (Is. 42:1)
Indeed He says, `It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.'” (Is. 49:6)
When we celebrate Advent as the celebration of Jesus’ birth, don’t just think about Christmas decorations and food and presents. Think about how Jesus’ birth saved you forever.
Advent in the Present: The Continuing Presence of the Holy Spirit
Jesus didn’t leave us alone when He returned to heaven. Instead He came into the hearts of all who believe in Him – then and now!
“After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:3-5)
The apostle Paul clearly identifies the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ:
“Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba”, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Gal. 3:6-7)
The work of the Holy Spirit is ongoing into our lives! Our Christian lives are dynamic and changing, hopefully in the direction of growth! The coming of God happens every day on this earth that we turn to Him and love Him and grow in Him.
Advent in the Future: The 2nd Coming of Christ
The final advent hasn’t happened yet! It will be the 2nd coming of Christ.
So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:6-11)
“Immediately after the distress of those days ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ [quote from Is. 13:10; 34:4]
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. (Matt. 24:22-30)
Pick a verse. Read and meditate on it every morning or evening (or both!) during Advent.
• Luke 1:14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth
• Luke 1:35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.
• Matthew 1:23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel ( God with us).
• Luke 2:9-12 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
• Luke 2:13-14 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
• Micah 5:2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”
• Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.