SEM JJUUKO MATTHIAS: The Season of Advent

Advent is the liturgical season when the Church celebrates God’s in-breaking into history in the Incarnation, and forestalls a future consummation to that history for which all creation is creaking in expectancy of its redemption. The word Advent comes from the Latin word ‘adventus,’ which means ‘coming into.’ This is a celebration of Christ’s coming leading up to Christmas. The period of Advent begins on the fourth Sunday preceding Christmas day and ends on Christmas Eve; it correspondingly marks the commencement of the traditional Church year. 

We may ask, what is Jesus’ purpose of coming into the world? The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world is to disclose God and His grace to the world through his life and teaching, but also through his woe, death, and resurrection. The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his first Advent and the keenness of the homecoming of Christ the King in his second Advent. Hence, Advent is perceptibly celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be acquiescent to God. This period of Christ’s repatriation is a process in which we now participate, and the all-inclusiveness of which we anticipate. 

Meanwhile, in Revelation 1:8, we receive an assurance of Christ to his people who are anxiously hoping and elatedly waiting for his imminence, saying; “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” This season denotes the spiritual journey of individuals and a congregation, as we affirm that Christ has come, that He is present in the world today, and that He will come again in power. That wave offers a basis for Kingdom ethics for holy living arising from a profound sense that we live “between the times of Christ.”

Most of us are quite aware that this season is a time to celebrate the first coming of Christ at his birth. But the Advent season actually celebrates more than this. During Advent we celebrate at least three ways in which Christ comes to us. Christ came to us in the incarnation as Christ’s first advent, then by his presence with us in this time amid the first and second Advent and thirdly, coming of Christ that we rejoice is his future coming, often called his second Advent. Jesus told us that he would come again and take us to himself, that we might be with him forever (John 14:3). 

In the Nicene Creed the church proclaims: “He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end.” Therefore, our Advent celebration also looks forward to the future, to the Last Judgment, and to God’s restoration of all things through Jesus Christ. This is why the symbol which combines the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Aleph) and the last letter of the Greek alphabet (Omega), is often used during Advent reminding us that Jesus fulfils both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. It also reminds us that Jesus is the beginning, centre, and end of all things.

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Ardently, the period has got four weeks and each week with its symbols and significances.  Firstly, in week one; Hope is a fundamental aspect as it reminds us that Jesus is coming as it is inscribed in Romans 15:12-13. In week two: as it is in the book of Luke 3:4-6, the church puts faith as a crucial charisma needed as we are reminded about preparing the way of the Lord who is forthcoming. Then, the third Sunday has traditionary been a lull from the atoning themes of Advent accentuating the joy of the coming of the Lord. Week three is an aide-mémoire of joy. It reminds us the joy at the coming birth of Jesus biblically in Luke 2:10. At last, in week four peace prevails. This retells the glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours as we read in Luke 2:14. 

Surely, these weeks are accompanied by the three candle colours- purple, pink and white- symbolically represent the spiritual preparation believers undergo to prepare their hearts for the birth of the lord Jesus Christ. The four candles that is; three purple or blue representing penitence and one pink representing joy are momentous as each is lit on each Sunday of Advent. Customarily, the colour purple has been associated with Advent, with pink being used on the third or fourth Sunday to signify an increase in light as Christmas nears. Many churches today have switched to royal blue to create a greater distinction between Advent and the Season of Lent, which also uses Purple. Both Purple and Royal Blue are symbolic of kingship, therefore reminding us that Jesus is King of Kings. 

Factually, in the history of advent, people used the Advent “Wreath and candles” to count the weeks before Christmas certainly originated in ancient harvest festivals of northern Europe. The presentation of a circular wreath ever green, with four candles reminds us of God’s love; always green like a tree ever alive and growing that it never fails; like a circle, God’s love has no beginning and end. The circle of the wreath reminds us of God Himself, His perpetuity and boundless clemency, which has no beginning or end. The green of the wreath speaks of the hope that we have in God, the hope of newness, of renewal, of eternal life. Candles symbolize the light of God coming into the world through the birth of His son. 

The four outer candles represent the period of waiting during the four Sundays of Advent, which themselves symbolize the four centuries of waiting between the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ. 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 world as 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 by God who has heard the cries of oppressed slaves and brought deliverance! 

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We are a people of Hope to whom God has made a solemn promise. During Advent, we read in the Bible about God’s promise to send a great Light in the darkness, to give sight to the blind, to fill us with hope, peace, joy, and love. We believe that God’s promise was fulfilled in the birth of his Son, Jesus, born of Mary in Bethlehem. We believe that Christ is a Light for the world. Advent is a time of quiet, joyful preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth and also a time to remember that we wait for Christ to come again at the end of time.

Countless liturgical churches incorporate confessional prayers into the services of Advent that relate to a logic of contemptibility as we anticipate His Coming, so it’s a moment to repent. The Christ we are longing for is right at the longing. This is the time we should keep the candle burning so that the Christ who is coming may just sit in our hearts and prevail. This is the moment that prepares us to encounter the life of Christ – “Regi Regum”- such that at the end, we join him in the blissful heavenly kingdom where he is seated at the right-hand side.

Pope Francis said, “advent is a journey towards Bethlem. May we let ourselves be drawn by the light of God made man.” He then added, “Advent is the time we are given to welcome the Lord who comes to encounter us, and to also verify our longing for God, to look forward and prepare ourselves for Christ return.” This period gives us a vision of our lives as Christians and shows us the possibilities of life. By this magnificent vision in life and hope for the future given to us by Christ; his coming again should find us awake and watchful such that he doesn’t find us asleep. 

In a nutshell, we are called to prepare well for that Christ who is bringing the light of God to us. This is a time of new beginnings- it is the official start of the Church’s calendar of greatness as we journey with the expected Christ born on Christmas day. During this Advent season, our daily response to our coming King should be the same as that of the Apostle John in Rev. 22:20: “Come, Lord Jesus!” 

Sem. Jjuuko Mathias
Alokolum National Major seminary
[email protected]

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