Advent is the first Season, and so, the beginning of the Church’s Year. It begins with the Advent Sunday (the Sunday nearest to St Andrew’s day -November 30 – and the first of the four Sundays, called “Sundays in Advent”, which precede Christmas) and ends on Christmas Eve (Dec 24). If Christmas Eve is a Sunday, it is counted as the fourth Sunday in Advent, with Christmas Eve proper beginning at sundown.
The word, Advent, is derived from the Latin word Advenio or Adventus meaning “Coming” or “Arrival”. The Advent as a Church season is used to refer to the Coming of Christ. The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ (Christmas) in his First Advent, and the anticipation of his return as the King in his Second Advent (Parousia). The Advent calls to mind God’s breaking into history in the Incarnation and the anticipation of a future consummation of that history for which all creation is groaning, awaiting its redemption (Rom. 8:22-23). Jesus came for the salvation of man, which he completed spiritually, but yet to fully manifest physically because of His gracious means and proceedings. He is, therefore, coming again to bring what He has accomplished to full manifestation. This entails coming in glory and power to give everyone as he deserves. As we recite in the Creed, He is coming again to judge the living and the dead.
Thus, in this double focus on past and future, Advent also symbolises the spiritual journey of Christians, as we affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. The acknowledgment provides a basis for Kingdom ethics, for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times” and are called to be faithful stewards of what is entrusted to us as God’s people.
The anticipated Advent carries a dual theme of threat and promise. In view of this, Advent has come to be a time of preparation marked with prayer. While Lent is characterised by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Advent’s prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those walking in darkness that are awaiting and anticipating a great light (Isa 9). The Collect/Prayer for the Advent Sunday, which is repeated every day of the Advent, captures it well:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which Your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility, so that on the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious majesty: to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal: through Him who is alive and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The spirit of Advent is expressed well in the parable of the bridesmaids, who are anxiously awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13). There is profound joy at the Bridegroom’s expected coming. And yet a warning of the need for preparation echoes through the parable. But even then, the prayer of Advent is still: Come, O Come, Emmanuel;
And ransom captive Israel!
The Venerable Dr Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba, FIMC, CMC. is the Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.