What is Advent? A time to prepare both spiritually and physically – a time for changes, choices, challenges and celebration.
For people who celebrate Christmas, there are always things to get ready, arrangements to make. There are decisions to take about time, money, energy, space: where to spend the holiday, with whom, and how. Whether Christmas is an elaborate occasion – greetings cards to send, presents to find, food to buy, meals to cook, family to connect with, guests to host – or a simpler, quieter time – there will always be the need to make preparations.
Advent is the time to prepare. In the Christian calendar, the four weeks leading up to Christmas are set aside for getting ready. The term Advent has its roots in the ancient Latin word for Coming: it’s a time of expectation, to make arrangements for what will be – an opportunity to focus the mind on all that needs to be done, as if you were anticipating a visitor or going on a journey, expecting a baby, preparing for a marriage or for an operation in hospital.
Almost inevitably in our culture, that means shopping – buying, spending, giving, receiving – and it could hardly be otherwise as we prepare to celebrate the God who becomes one with us in Jesus, born as a human child into family and community, into economy and ecology. Christmas presents and cards and food and drink express our wonder at how the spiritual and the material is joined together in Jesus, showing us a spiritual God of concrete acts and actual relationships. This God is Jesus the Christ, Son of Mary, the one who shows us the face of God.
Long ago the prophet Isaiah expected that this child, Emmanuel, God with us, would know how to make choices, to opt for what is right in God’s eyes: By the time this child is old enough to eat curds and honey, he will know how to refuse evil and choose the good (Isaiah 7:15).
This is the child who teaches us to make choices for what is good. To get ready for the coming of this Jesus God at Christmas reminds us that he promised to come again and to search the world in the light of God’s values, to look for justice and for love in our lives and our relationships. We are not only expecting a child, but also a judge – and he is one and the same person, the vulnerable baby who judges us and challenges us in his profound need for care and for security.
In Advent we are being asked to make choices for the well-being of God’s world and God’s children, to act for others in love and justice while we have the time, before it is too late – to cast away the works of darkness, and to put on the armour of light.
This means that in Advent we can do some spiritual work as well as material preparation – deciding what our values are and who is to become our priority. There is an attitude of mind and of spirit to find, an honest recognition of where we have been wrong, a right way to approach what is coming, to live our lives with a heart that wants to give away as well as to grab, to receive what we long for as well as to always be responding to others’ demands.
So what Comes in Advent?
Change, Choice, Challenge, Celebration.
Diocese of Birmingham