The Anticipation of Advent

Many of us may not have grown up in a Church tradition that really celebrated the season of Advent, but it is one of the gifts that the Church has passed down to us from centuries past. Advent is about two different anticipations. First of all, in this season we return by spiritual imagination to the days before Christ’s coming, when the people of God longed for the Messiah, the one the prophets foretold. We imagine the plight of God’s people Israel, subject to various empires, longing to see God’s kingdom established and his people vindicated.  So, in this season we sing hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

The second anticipation we experience in Advent is the anticipation of Christ’s second coming. We, like God’s people in the Old Testament, are still longing and looking for the final and complete establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The genius of this season is that even as it begins the Church calendar, it also serves as a kind of conclusion to it. As we celebrated the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of our Savior, at the closing of the Church year we also celebrate our hope in Christ’s future return. So, in this season we also sing hymns like “Lo, He Come with Clouds Descending.” 

Lo, He comes with clouds descending,
Once for our salvation slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending swell the triumph of His train:
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia
Christ the Lord returns to reign.

For those of us that didn’t grow up celebrating advent, it might seem odd that we wait so long to sing Christmas carols like “Joy to the World” or “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” until after Advent, especially as these songs are on repeat all around us, at the mall or on the radio. But it is precisely because this season is about waiting that we, well, wait!  In due time our songs will join the Angels’ “alleluia” and “glory to God in the highest” as we celebrate that the King is born.