Advent simply means “coming”, as in Christ’s coming. The First Advent would be the Incarnation 2000 years ago, and the Second Advent, Christ’s return. Having said that, Advent is much more than a historical event to be celebrated every year…it is a truth, and it is about celebrating that truth…that God revealed himself in Jesus through the Incarnation.
Truth, huh? Celebration, really? Why do I (and perhaps we) find it so hard to keep Advent at the forefront of our hearts and minds during the Christmas season? Advent gets sucked of significance and meaning when we are easily distracted by things the world thinks brings significance and meaning during the holidays: consumption, busyness, ease, self-centered feel-good emotions, etc.
I recently noticed that some “Christian” things and traditions suck significance away from Advent as well. The other day I was with a group singing Christmas carols and found myself having a hard time with some of the expressions and sentiments of the songs. Let me give you some examples:
“All is calm, all is bright…..holy infant so tender and mild…sleep in heavenly peace…”
“The little boy Jesus lays down His sweet head…the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay…no crying He makes…
-Away in the Manger
Seems like I am not the only one who is caught off guard by some of our Christmas songs. A recent article in Christianity Today highlights this issue: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/december/2.16.html . Trust me, I am not overly concerned by this…but its worth mentioning.
After we sang, we read some Scripture passages that reflect Advent. We read Isaiah 9:6-7 and Jeremiah 33:14-16. It was at this time that another foundational truth about Advent and the Incarnation that hit me….
We mostly connect Christmas with the aspect of the Incarnation linked to the redemption of our sins through Jesus (and the Cross). This of course is praiseworthy and amazing, yet fails to really embrace the fullness of Jesus coming to earth. If you read through Advent verses (like the ones I mention above) it is clear that the kingdom of God was the central message of Advent and the Incarnation of Messiah. Forgiveness of sins is an aspect of the kingdom, a huge aspect of the kingdom, but not the entire kingdom.
Both Isaiah 9 and Jeremiah 33 foreshadow the kingdom of God, using words like: government, righteousness, justice, judgment, throne, peace, etc. Certainly there are great Christmas songs that reflect this truth, but how many of us really focus on the kingdom of God during the Christmas season. Justice? Righteousness? What about presents? Family time? And lots of food? Yet the prophets foretold of this all-encompassing truth of the kingdom.
May the kingdom of God be at the center of our theology of Incarnation and Advent. May we seek to push forth His kingdom of “justice, righteousness, and shalom”. May we see through the eyes of Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out while being oppressed in hopes of deliverance from the injustice of the world. May Advent be marked by the expectation, anticipation, preparation, and longing for the kingdom of God: a King who will rule with truth, justice, and righteousness over His people and His creation in a world marred by sin and death.