"We must live between these great poles of history, between fulfilment and expectation, in the necessary tension of a kingdom that is both ‘already’ and ‘not yet.’"
Advent is a beginning. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, it offers an invitation to see the world afresh. Advent is the beginning of the year according to the church calendar. And though connected to Christmas, it has its own focus as a season.
The season of Advent lasts approximately four weeks, beginning the fourth Sunday before Christmas and continuing until Christmas Eve and the celebration of Christmas Day. The church calendar is a way to pattern our days and months according to the greatest revelation of God to humanity—the life and death of Jesus Christ. Personally, I love to live within its rhythm as it shapes my year according to major events of Scripture.
Historically, Advent has a double focus. The word itself means “coming.” The first focus of Advent is the coming of Christ 2,000 years ago. Rather than jump right into feasting, many Advent observers have actually used it as a time of fasting. With so many holiday goodies around, why would anyone want to deny themselves the pleasure of treats? Well, the intent behind fasting is to prepare your heart to fully receive the joy of Christmas. It is to taste the hunger and hope of Israel as they waited for the Messiah to appear. It is to insert oneself back in time, to relive the stories of the Old Testament, to wait right alongside those whose faith kept them looking ahead to the fulfilment of God’s promises. It is to join our voices with countless others and sing, “O come, o come, Emmanuel.” We don’t have to fast to do this, but we do need to readjust our focus and purpose in order to live awhile with the ancient longing.
It is this focus that makes the celebration of Christmas all the sweeter when it arrives. It is this focus that allows us to keep the heart of Christmas in central view. It is this focus that reminds us that the Incarnation really has changed everything.
The second focus of Advent looks ahead to the Second Coming of Christ. There are promises yet to be fulfilled. There are hopes yet to be realized. There are circumstances all around that make us cry out for salvation’s completion. We are not so different from those Old Testament saints, after all. The earth groans for redemption, and our heavy hearts groan along with it, whispering, “Come, Lord Jesus.” And yet our whispers are not without comfort and joy. For the same God who stooped to take on our flesh will one day come to reign over all. He will put things right. He will put us right. This is the promise we hold to, along with our Saviour’s reassuring “Fear not!” that brings light into our dark days.
This future focus reminds us that we are still pilgrims on a journey. It offers us hope to lift our heads in times of fear and doubt. It allows us to see that there is more to come. Christmas may be a beautiful word, but it is not the last word.
Advent says to us: “Do you want to see clearly? Begin here. Begin by looking doubly at Christ.”
I remember doing an experiment in high school where we had to close one eye, extend our arm, and try to drop a nail into a small plastic cup. Without both eyes open, we lost what is called “stereoscopic vision.” We had no depth perception. For most of us, the nail went clanging to the floor.
We need spiritual stereoscopic vision. When we look doubly at Jesus, we place ourselves right where we ought to be—in the reality between the Incarnation and the Glorious Appearing. We must live between these great poles of history, between fulfilment and expectation, in the necessary tension of a kingdom that is both “already” and “not yet.”
Advent reminds us not only of the origins of our faith in a humble manger, but of the end. Not the end of all things, but the end of this broken world, as we know it. We know Jesus Christ will come again and redefine our entire reality.
Only by looking at both “comings” do we see Christ clearly. Only with both eyes wide open can we gain the perspective we need to walk into a new season and a new year.
This is the focus Advent has to offer us.
Lindsey Gallant loves everyday theology and lives with her family on their mini-farm in Prince Edward Island. She blogs at theredlettersblog.com.
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This article appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.