Throughout history, there have been different interpretations as to what the season of Advent means, or should mean, to Christians. Advent, “derived from the Latin word "adventus," means "coming." In the fourth and fifth centuries, advent was a season of preparation by new Christians, through penance, prayer, and fasting, for being baptized at the January Feast of the Epiphany. There was little connection between Advent and Christmas. In the sixth century, Roman Christians tied Advent to the SECOND coming of Christ, NOT the FIRST coming of his birth in Bethlehem. In the Middle Ages, Advent was first linked to the First coming of Christ.
Today's church celebrates BOTH. We look back upon the miraculous events of his birth, ministry on earth, crucifixion, and resurrection. We anticipate his second coming in power and great glory, to establish His kingdom on the earth and to judge the world. The prayer for the Season of Advent (p. 378 of the Book of Common Prayer) says, "Because You sent Your beloved Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in Him of everlasting life, that when He shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may, without shame or fear, rejoice to behold His appearing."
To prepare our hearts for Advent, we remember and pray about the FIRST and the SECOND coming of Christ. My thoughts also reach out to what, for me, is the THIRD coming of Christ. It is the most important one to us as individuals as it embraces the FIRST and SECOND coming. This "third coming" is the coming of Christ into our individual hearts as we personally recognize and believe that He is the son of God. He came to earth and suffered terrible agony on the cross to save us from being justly punished for our sins. We acknowledge Him as the Lord of our lives. We acknowledge His divinity, His love and His sacrifice for us. We accept His Lordship over our lives. This frees us from much internal and external pressure so that we may dedicate our love, belief, and allegiance to Him in all things. Is this easy? Of course not! The aftermath of the recent murder of Christians at their church in Sutherland Springs, TX, showed in graphic detail what much of the secular world thinks of us. The 21st century has seen more ridicule, suffering, and death inflicted on Christians in all parts of the world than since ancient times. We are blessed to know that, regardless of all the terribly senseless violence and other wrong doing being done here, that God will, in His own good time, make all things right. The Serenity Prayer expresses it this way. "Trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with YOU forever in the next."
As we remember and celebrate His love for us, we are duty bound to remember the words of the Great Commission to ..."go...preach...make disciples...baptize...and teach." The weakness of the human spirit comes into play very strongly here as we think about our personal shortcomings in the way we spend our time, talent, and treasure. I have found a measure of peace with regard to my own shortcomings by working with Operation Christmas Child. Through it, my meager efforts are multiplied tremendously as OCC reaches out to needy children in foreign lands to tell them about the love and amazing grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the Original Christmas Child and the very first Christmas present. Sent from God the Father as a payment for our sins, Jesus Christ became The Greatest Gift of All - to all mankind - in all places - and for all times. We reach out to children to teach them about Jesus with Christian materials presented by Christian teachers. As a demonstration of our love, and more importantly, Jesus' love for them, we give them a "shoe box" filled with small gifts. These simple gifts of small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies remind them that Jesus has not forgotten them, and we haven't forgotten them either. This "missionary in a box," or "shoe box with wings to fly" is a wonderful way for us to teach children, their families, and their communities about the FIRST coming, and the much-anticipated SECOND coming, of Jesus Christ.
What better way could there be for us to show our gratitude for our material and spiritual blessings, as well as our salvation purchased by the blood of Christ?! When we reach out to share the love of Christ with others, we also show the importance of our love for, and belief in, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
To me, this is the true meaning of Advent.
Daily Reading: 1 Peter 2:5-9
5 like living stones, let yourselves be built[a] into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him[b] will not be put to shame.’
7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner’,
‘A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,[c] in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.