Advent is Coming

Frankfurt am Main city hall and Christmas market at night.

Tomorrow marks a new beginning. It’s the beginning of Advent and the start of a new church year. For my liturgically challenged friends, here’s a little Advent primer. Advent is the season prior to Christmas when many Christians prepare for the coming of Jesus. “Advent” derives from the Latin adventus, which means “coming.” It looks backward to the Incarnation and forward to the Second Coming—twin Christological certainties separated by the here and now, the in-between-ness, when things are far less sure.

Growing up we always had an Advent calendar to countdown the days until Christmas. Not just any advent calendar but an antique, box-shaped calendar made for a candle in the middle. Its four cardboard sides resembled the step-gabled facade of the medieval town hall, called the Römer, in my mother’s hometown of Frankfurt, Germany. It was a connection to the old country, to our family’s heritage, and to a much older land where shepherds watched their flocks by night and Magi searched the starry heavens for signs.

Each day of Advent we opened a new window, revealing a Bible verse printed in Gothic script on tissue paper backlit by the flickering candlelight. My mother still has that Advent calendar, fragile and worn with years of use. It’s stored away for safekeeping. She has a newer one just like it, sturdier and brighter, which she uses now. She’ll be setting it up today. The older one reminds me of Advents past when my faith was simple and unquestioning. The newer one preserves the family traditions in the present while pointing to the promise of the future return of Christ—“the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27). Looking back and looking ahead. Comfort and hope. Certainty and expectation. That’s what Advent is all about.

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