A is for Advent. Advent is an old word. Not so old that you will find it anywhere in the Bible- but that is true of a surprising number of words and ideas that have become part of our Christian tradition.
Our English word Advent is derived from the latin word “Adventus”, which means coming, or arrival- so this is the season in which we await the arrival of Jesus. There is a connection between this word and the word “Adventure”, which is often defined as an enterprise that involves danger and risk. Can we think of this time of waiting for Christmas as an adventure?
How can it be an adventure without some element of danger?
The earliest known manuscripts of the “books” that make up the New Testament were written in Greek- which was the common language of much of the Roman Empire. When the Greek manuscripts were translated into Latin, “Adventus” was the word chosen to translate the Greek word “Parousia”. Parousia is a more nuanced word than arrival or coming. It was used to talk about official visits of royalty.
Parousia is the word the early Christian writers used when they were talking not about the birth of Jesus, but about the return of the Risen Christ, an event often called the Second Coming, or the Second Advent. From earliest times, the Christian tradition has included the expectation of Christ’s return, in an event that would mark the end of an age, and possibly the end of the world as we know it. On the Sunday before Advent began, many congregations celebrated “Reign of Christ”, or “Christ the King” Sunday, and listened to a reading from Matthew’s Gospel that described “the day of the Lord”:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32)
As 21st Century followers of Jesus, what do we make of the expectation of a Second Coming? If we do not take it literally- what other meaning does it have for us?
Personally, I take the stories about “the end of the age” as a reminder that we are not ultimately in charge of life on earth, or even of our own lives. I find the idea a cataclysmic age-ending event on a global scale hard to accept, but have come to recognize that we each face our own mortality, and the end of particular phases or stages of our lives, all the time.
What changes are you facing? What losses have you already endured? Christmas is often a time when we are more deeply aware of the absence of people, and the disappointment of unfulfilled dreams.
In the midst of these smaller scale “end of the age” events, do you have the sense that God is with you? In yesterday’s “letter” I suggested taking two minutes each day this week for silent prayer. If you allow yourself to silently wait on God, you may get a glimpse or a feeling of something new that God has for you- something that is waiting to be born.
The Advent Alphabet is a ministry offering from Rev. Darrow Woods, minister at Trinity United Church in Oakville, Ontario.