The Spirit of Advent
Advent is marked by a spirit of expectation, of anticipation,
of preparation, of longing. There is a yearning for deliverance
from the evils of the word, first expressed by Israelite slaves
in Egypt as they cried out from their bitter oppression. It is
the cry of those who have experienced the tyranny of injustice
in a world under the curse of sin, and yet who have hope of
deliverance from a God who has heard the cries of oppressed
slaves and brought deliverance!
It is that hope however faint at times, and that God however
distant He sometimes seems, that brings to the world the
anticipation of a King who will rule with truth and justice and
righteousness over His people and in His creation. It is that
hope that once anticipated, and now anticipates anew, the reign
of an Anointed One, a Messiah, who will bring peace and justice
and righteousness to the world.
Part of that expectation also anticipates a judgment on sin
and a calling of the world to accountability before God. We long
for God to come and set the world right! Yet, as the prophet
Amos warned, the expectation of a coming judgment at the
"Day of the Lord" may not be the day of light that we
might want, because the penetrating light of Godís judgment on
sin will shine just as brightly on Godís people.
Because of this important truth, especially in the Eastern
Orthodox Churches, the Season of Advent has been a time of
fasting and penitence for sins similar to the Season of Lent.
However, a different emphasis for the season of Advent has
gradually unfolded in much of the rest of the church. The season
of Advent has come to be celebrated more in terms of expectation
or anticipation. Yet, the anticipation of the Coming of the
Messiah throughout the Old Testament and Judaism was not in
connection with remembrance of sins. Rather, it was in the
context of oppression and injustice, the longing for redemption,
not from personal guilt and sin but from the systemic evil of
the world expressed in evil empires and tyrants. It is in that
sense that all creation groans for its redemption as we witness
the evil that so dominates our world (Rom 8:18-25).
Of course, there is the problem of longing for vindication
from an evil world when we are contributors to that evil. This
is the power of the images of Amos when he warns about longing
for the "Day of the Lord" that will really be a day of
darkness (Amos 5:18-20). Still, even with Amosí warning the
time of Advent is one of expectation and anticipation, a longing
for God's actions to restore all things and vindicate the
righteous. This is why during Advent we as Christians also
anticipate the Second Coming as a twin theme of the season. So,
while some church traditions focus on penitence during Advent,
the spirit of that expectation from the Old Testament is better
captured with a joyous sense of expectancy. Rather than a time
of mourning and fasting, Advent is celebrated as a time of joy
and happiness as we await the coming of the King.
There will be time enough during the rest of the journey
through the Church Year to remember our sins. It begins in
Epiphany when we hear about the brotherhood of the Kingdom, and
realize our failure to effect it. Then as we move toward and
through Lent we realize that the coming of Jesus served more to
lay bare our own sin than it did to vindicate our righteousness.
There will be time to shed Peter's bitter tears as we realize
that what started with such possibility and expectation has
apparently ended in such failure.
It is only as we experience that full cycle, beginning with
unbridled joy in Advent that slowly fades into the realization
of what we have done with and to the Christ, that the awful
reality of Good Friday can have its full impact. And in that
realization we can finally be ready to hear the Good News on
Resurrection Sunday! That is the journey that the disciples
took. And so there is value in taking the same journey beginning
with the unbridled joy of Advent!
So, we celebrate with gladness the great promise in the
Advent, yet knowing that there is also a somber tone as the
theme of threat is added to the theme of promise. This is
reflected in some of the readings for Advent, in which there is
a strong prophetic tone of accountability and judgment on sin.
But this is also faithful to the role of the Coming King who
comes to rule, save, and judge the world.
Because of the dual themes of threat and promise, Advent is a
time of preparation that is marked by prayer. While Lent is
characterized by fasting and a spirit of penitence, Adventís
prayers are prayers of humble devotion and commitment, prayers
of submission, prayers for deliverance, prayers from those
walking in darkness who are awaiting a great light!
The spirit of Advent is expressed well in the parable of the
bridesmaids who are anxiously awaiting the coming of the
Bridegroom. There is profound joy at the Bridegroomís expected
coming. And yet a warning of the need for preparation echoes
through the parable. But even then, the prayer of Advent is
Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel!