Embracing Advent: A Season of Yearning and Anticipation

Devotion, Inspiration, Personal Development

As the calendar year winds down, as the days darken and grow short, as Christmas songs spill from crowded stores and children set about making wish lists for Santa, the church’s year dawns. On the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Advent begins. The first day of Advent is our Christian New Year’s Day. It kicks off the entire cycle of the liturgical calendar, which through each passing week will slowly unfurl the story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit.

We begin our Christian year in waiting. We do not begin with our own frenetic effort or energy. We do not begin with the merriment of Christmas or the triumph of Easter. We do not begin with the work of the church or the mandate of the Great Commission. Instead, we begin in a place of yearning. We wait for our king to come.

The word advent derives from the Latin adventus, which means “coming.” The liturgical season of Advent is the time in which we prepare for and look forward to the coming of Christ.

Christians, of course, believe that Christ has already come. Jesus has already brought the kingdom of God near. He has already stretched out his hands to heal and to bless. He has already been broken on the cross and defeated death. He has already poured out his Spirit. So why do we reenter a season of waiting each year? What are we waiting for?

We Christians believe, however, not just in one coming of Christ but in three: the coming of Christ in the incarnation, the coming of Christ in what Scripture terms “the last days”, and the coming of Christ in our present moment, through the Holy Spirit’s work and through Word and sacrament (Rutledge, 2018). Advent celebrates and holds together all three “comings” of Christ.

It is a deeply paradoxical season, at once past, present, and future. Ancient yet urgent.

When we enter into the waiting of Advent, we do so not primarily as individuals but with all people of faith throughout time and around the globe. When we worship together each week, we join our voices, as the Anglican liturgy says, “with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven.” Because of this, the church calendar as a whole—and Advent specifically—is a way to reach toward timelessness through time itself. It is a season out of time. It is a season marked by days and weeks, yet through it we enter into the eternal story of God and God’s work on earth.

In Advent we take time to reflect on how Jesus, whom the people of Israel longed for, meets us today. We look at the places in our own lives where we yearn for Christ to come, places where we need hope, encouragement, help, and deliverance.

Advent is also the time when we recall that Christ comes to us actually and tangibly through the means of grace: through the Scriptures, through baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper (or the Eucharist). That these are called the means of grace reminds us that grace is not a free-floating force, much less a warm, spiritual feeling, untethered from the earth and human history. Instead, grace is the reality that God is at work. And his work is most often through earthy things. These means of grace are the reliable ways in which we know Christ in the present. They are sturdy crags, handholds that allow us to continue in the way of Christ and offer us the presence of Christ, week in and week out.

Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America. She writes a weekly newsletter for the New York Times and is a columnist for Christianity Today. She is also the author of Prayer in the Night, Liturgy of the Ordinary, and Advent.

Taken from Advent  by Tish Harrison Warren. ©2023 by Lutitia Harrison Warren. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com.

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