All of Scripture is a sacred love story, the love of God the Father for His people. It is a story filled with expectation, longing, and fulfillment. From the beginning, God has lovingly walked with us, called to us, and searched for us even when we turned from Him over and over again.
Throughout the Old Testament, God repeatedly calls his people back to himself and time and again we remain unfaithful. He sends the prophets to call His people back and with the call to return comes a promise, a promise of hope, a promise of redemption, a promise of restoration, a promise to be made again into the people we were meant to be, a people fully alive in God.
These saving acts of God will be accomplished through a Savior who will come to rescue us and bring us back into fellowship with God. No longer will we strive with God. No longer will we be separated from Him. No longer will we turn from Him because, through His Savior, His Messiah, His Anointed One, He will give us new hearts and set us free.
Each Advent, we wait with the prophets and with all of creation for the birth of the promised Savior. The prophets’ call grows silent for 400 years and then suddenly, out of nowhere, the Almighty God stretches forth His hand to a small town and calls a seemingly insignificant young girl and she says “Yes.” The God of the universe humbles himself and makes himself flesh, to fully walk with us in our joy and sorrow. He takes the form of a helpless babe. It is a great mystery. It is the Incarnation. It is God with us, Emmanuel.
This event is so spectacular, so exceptional, and so important that time itself starts here. The first day of the Church year is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent comes from the Latin “Adventus” and simply means "coming." The season of Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and is a time for us to prepare not only for the celebration of the coming of Christ as a babe on Christmas Day, but also for the second coming of Christ when he will return in triumph to judge the world.
In her book, Around the Year with the Trapp Family, Maria Von Trapp says that the “whole of Advent is characterized by the boundless desire for the coming of Christ expressed in the liturgy” of the Church. And so we cry out with the Church and with all our hearts: “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!” And, like creation from Adam until the last prophet, or like Mary expectant with child, we embrace the mystery of waiting and we lovingly prepare our hearts. Just like the season of Lent is a time to prepare for Easter, the season of Advent is the time to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. It is during this time that we look to John the Baptist, the last and greatest prophet sent by God to prepare us for the Messiah. We turn inward and pray for the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts and our motives and to reveal anything that is unclean within us. We repent of our sins and we strive to offer fruits worthy of repentance.
Advent is also a time to remember those less fortunate than us, those who, like the Holy Family, have very little in this life and no place to rest their weary heads. It is a time to collect alms for the poor and to stretch out our hands in a spirit of charity to bless and heal those around us. The preparation of Advent is given so that our souls may be restored and so that we might be led, as a Church, into a “more profound delight in His birth” (Maria Von Trapp).
Although the Church celebrates the season, Advent is absent from the everyday world in which we live. And sadly, it is also often missing from our own homes. Our entire Christian faith is based upon the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus. However, in the world in which we live, we are given no time to prepare for the birth of our Lord and Savior and then no time to celebrate it once we get there. Christmas decorations explode into stores right after the Halloween merchandise comes down and then the season abruptly ends the day after Christmas. The very heart of both Advent and Christmas - Jesus - has been ripped away and all we are left with is an abstract “Holiday” season. Songs of “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” blare over the loudspeaker and we are wished a “Happy Holidays” rather than a “Merry Christmas” by the checkout clerk. The Christmas season has become completely devoid of Christ. For the wider world, it is no better than a hyper-commercialized pagan Holiday.
But, let us, as God’s people, reclaim the beauty and longing of the season of Advent and celebrate it with the Church throughout the world. Hear these words from the Bidding Prayer which is said each year at the Advent Festival of Lessons and Carols:
"Beloved in Christ, in this season of Advent, let it be our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the Angels, and in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem, to see the Babe lying in a manger. Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by his holy Child, and let us look forward to the yearly remembrance of his birth with hymns and songs of praise." Book of Occasional Services (2004), p. 31.