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On Sunday, December 2, Christians from traditional denominations — Catholic and Protestant — begin a new Church year.

The Church year begins with Advent: anticipating the Lord’s coming to His people. Whatever readings one hears in public worship from the Old and New Testaments, they address prophecy and fulfilment.

Reflecting on Advent readings can be somewhat metaphysical, for lack of a better term. The theme of waiting runs through each one, from the Lord’s people waiting in the Old Testament for the prophesied Messiah to our waiting for His coming again one day. Think of all the millions of people who lived and died without seeing Jesus Christ in the flesh. Yet, the Old Testament faithful believed that He would come to earth, just as Christians believe that He will come again a second time, signalling Judgment Day and the end of the world. All of us reading this may very well go to our rest before that fateful day.

Throughout this whole period, however — indeed from the beginning of time — Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has always been and always will be.  What follows are the first ten verses from John 1, normally read on Christmas Day:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

 6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.

From there, we think of all the waiting periods which ensued in the New Testament. Mary and Joseph, awestruck and apprehensive, awaited His birth. Jesus awaited His own arrest, scourging and crucifixion. He asked His apostles to pray and wait with him on Maundy Thursday; they fell asleep. Later after His resurrection, He told them He would send them the Holy Spirit, which would enable them to teach and preach the Good News. They waited ten days for that divine gift from His Ascension into heaven until that first Pentecost. With that first Pentecost the period of what we call the Last Days began. They continue to this day. The Last Days are Christianity’s long waiting period until His return to earth. None of us knows when that will be — only God the Father (Matthew 24:36). As such, faithful Christians prepare themselves for it. Most, if not all, of us are likely to die before His return, so, we live our lives as best we can in preparation for our death — our closest equivalent. As with our Lord’s return, we know not the day nor the hour of our expiry from this mortal coil.

Therefore, Advent is a thought-provoking time — one of profound reflection during Sunday worship and of joy when we share in the uplifting special services centred on carols or children.

Those returning to Christianity might well have two questions at this point as they reflect on what they remember from their earlier Bible studies long ago: why the Apocalypse and why John the Baptist?

To answer these, a Calvin Theological Seminary page explains both.

The Apocalypse

Traditionally the Church has begun the Advent Season with a look at one of Jesus’ apocalyptic sayings, which in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke come very near the end of his ministry and just prior to his arrest and crucifixion. Advent begins by looking to the end of all things as well as to the ongoing travails of history that ultimately bring us to the end.

  • Why? Because if Jesus is not coming again, then there is very little to celebrate in his having arrived here on earth in the first place. If a future judgment on sin is not possible, then the birth of Jesus is reduced to quaint sentimentality and is restricted to being an event long ago and far away. The first advent of the Christ is drained of meaning if the second advent is bracketed or denied.

John the Baptist

If you look at the average crèche or manger scene that people display, sometimes you find surprising figures there. The Wise Men or Magi are often included, even though it appears they visited Jesus well after his birth (and so did not rub shoulders with the shepherds). Here and there even a Santa Claus makes a manger-side appearance! But the one figure you never see in such displays-and the one figure who appears on no Christmas cards or ornaments or other decorations-is John the Baptist. Yet the Church has traditionally said that John the Baptist is the necessary Advent forerunner for Jesus.

  • Why? Because Jesus came to die for our sins. We need to acknowledge that we have sins in the first place to be ready gladly to welcome Jesus’ arrival …
  • John gets us ready for Jesus by showing us our sins so that when Jesus arrives on the scene, we will seize on him as the only one who can help us. We cannot have Advent or a proper Christmas without John’s blazing message that calls us to repentance.

More to follow this month as we approach Christmas Day.

Incidentally, I have updated the Lutheran and Reformed Church links in my 2009 post, ‘Advent Resources for Catholics and Protestants’.

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