What is Advent all about?

Fr. T.P. Reynolds
November 28, 2010

For the Church, New Year’s Day is not January 1 but the first Sunday of Advent. In 2010, our liturgical New Year’s Day falls on November 28. We spend the first several weeks—between three and four weeks—of each liturgical year waiting or expecting and this is why it is called the season of ‘Advent’—from the Latin word adventus, meaning ‘arrival’ or ‘coming.’ The first readings of the Mass during these weeks, taken mostly from the prophet Isaiah, make it clear that we are waiting for the coming of the Messiah. (‘Messiah’ is the Hebrew word for ‘The Anointed One.’)

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Week one identifies this awaited one as a Teacher who will teach the way in which we should walk (Is. 30:20-21). Week two further identifies him as a descendant of David who will establish justice on Earth (Is. 11:1-10). Week three speaks of this Davidic king as a star coming out of Jacob (Num. 24:17). Week four speaks of a sign given by God, namely that a virgin will bear a son, and will name him Emmanuel (Is. 7:14). These are just a sampling of the liturgical themes that draw our attention to the coming one.

Two thousand years ago the Jewish people, taking their cue from the prophets, waited for the Messiah’s arrival. Eventually he did arrive, at least according to a minority of Jews then living. This Jewish minority later distinguished themselves from the Jewish majority by calling themselves ‘Christians’—a name that proclaimed their belief that the Anointed One had already come. (Christos is the Greek word for ‘The Anointed One.’)

Why, then, we may ask, do we keep on reading biblical texts about his arrival today, since we believe that the Messiah already arrived two thousand years ago? And why do we get so excited as Christmas approaches? Here is a hint: after reciting the Our Father in the Mass, the celebrant prays: “Lord, protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” So Christians are still waiting for Jesus Christ—for His second coming.

For that second coming the early Christians fervently prayed ‘Marana tha,’ that is, ‘Come Lord.’ You will find that prayer in the original Aramaic language that Jesus spoke at the end of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (cf. 1 Cor. 16:22). You can find it again at the very end of the New Testament, but this time the name ‘Jesus’ is added: ‘Come Lord Jesus’ (cf. Rev. 22:20). And after the consecration of the Mass we too proclaim our belief in the second coming: ‘Christ [i.e., Messiah] has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.’

But He has not returned so far. Hence, today we are still awaiting that second coming, that new adventus, which is why we say that prayer after the Our Father. So, you see, at the beginning of every Church year we get excited. By reading the prophets of the Old Testament each Advent we put ourselves in a state of hopeful expectation, like the state of hopeful expectation the Jews had in the centuries before Jesus was born.