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Happy New Year!
Yes, believe it or not, we have just started a new year. The first Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the Church year.
I’ve often wondered why this is. After all, wouldn’t it make more sense to begin the year with a significant event such as the birth of Christ? Then again, the coming of God into the world, in the human form of Jesus his Son, is such a significant event that it demands a time of waiting and preparation. Without it, we are liable to miss the real reason for the season.
Isn’t it interesting that the two major events in the Christian calendar – Christmas and Easter – are preceded by a period of preparation? Both Advent and Lent call us to prepare ourselves to worship Jesus in spirit and in truth. They are to be times of active repentance and change from those things in our lives that draw us away from Jesus.
Lent calls us to prepare ourselves to follow Jesus to the cross and to wait expectantly for his resurrection on Easter morning. In a similar way, the Advent season is certainly seen as the traditional time of expectation and preparation for the advent (or coming) of Jesus Christ; and the Nativity is the culmination of this season. But is that everything we are preparing for during Advent?
The following selection from Matthew 24 is one of the readings suggested in the PCC Lectionary for the first Sunday of Advent. As I read and reflected on it, it seemed to me there might be more to Advent than meets the eye. I did some digging and decided to share my thoughts on what I found. I would be delighted to have a conversation on the ideas presented. Read on.
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. 42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. Matthew 24:36-44 (NIV)
The thirteenth century theologian, Thomas Aquinas, offers that there are three appearances of Christ: “his coming in the flesh; his coming into the heart by faith; and his coming at the end of time in glory.”
It is in the first of the three, his coming in the flesh, that Advent and Lent are the most similar. The scriptural accounts of the Nativity – Christ’s coming in the flesh – all foreshadow the path to the cross.
You may have noticed that the Matthew 24 reading does not seem to have anything to do with Christmas. It doesn’t; in fact it has everything to do with Christ’s coming at the end of time, and highlights the main difference between Advent and Lent. In Lent we are meditating on Christ’s victory at the cross – a historical event. During Advent we meditate on Christ’s victory at the end of history – “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
The Advent season is calling us to “keep watch”, and to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him”. Just as he did on that first Christmas. It also reminds us of a sobering and painful truth: our time on this earth is limited. If you haven’t yet experienced the second of Christ’s appearances, his coming into the heart by faith, then now is the time to do so. Make this Advent season the beginning of your new life in Christ Jesus. Open your heart to him, and pray this simple prayer:
“Dear God, I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sin and that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him as my Saviour and follow Him as Lord, from this day forward. Guide my life and help me to do your will. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”
 Advent and Updates | Aquinas Institute, accessed 30 Nov 22
 Find Peace with God - Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, accessed 30 Nov 22