Advent is preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. It is anticipation, waiting. Yet, as the readings for the First Sunday in Advent demonstrate, it is not simply the waiting for Christ at his first coming as a child in the manger, but for his second coming at the end of time when all things are brought to completion. Indeed, some theologians argue that the second coming is the “third coming” since Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist and otherwise throughout the year.
The passage from Isaiah shows us that the hopes of the coming of the Messiah predate the visible Church of the Jews and Gentiles formed after the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah speaks of the longing for the peace of the Lord, which will be for all peoples and which would come from the God of Jacob. This peace would be for all nations, governed by the true King, “For from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples. They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Isaiah 2:4-5).This anticipation, a revelation given to Isaiah and the Jewish people as a whole, permeates not only Isaiah, but much of the post-exilic prophetic literature and many of the Jewish non-canonical texts from the Hellenistic period.
With the coming of Jesus, those Jews and Gentiles that proclaimed him Messiah now awaited not the first coming, but the coming again of the Messiah who had walked among them. Paul yearns for this time and speaks of its nearness:
“Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy” (Romans 13: 11-13).
The time is near, but when? Since there is no exact time given, it is always a time of preparation, anticipation and waiting. Paul speaks of “putting on the armor of light” in order to prepare, while Jesus himself gives images of readiness. Jesus says, “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Matthew 24:42-44).
This warning is full of promise, but some worry about the time that has passed. This sense of anticipation, though, speaks to the necessary childlikeness of the disciple of Jesus. As a child I recall the anticipation of Christmas, or waiting to see my older sister come home from college, but I had no sense of time or when this might be. I was just so excited as I waited and so ready when the time came. Advent: a time to await the child Jesus in the first coming, the second coming, every coming, with the anticipation of a child, without weariness or doubt, just excitement.
John W. Martens
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