Bishop and Christian*, December 2014

We are now in the season of Advent, which means “coming.” During Advent, the 20-odd days prior to Christmas, we both celebrate a coming and remind ourselves that we are waiting for a coming. We are celebrating the first coming of our Lord in humility as the Son of a Virgin, but we are also waiting for His second coming in glory to judge the quick and the dead. Advent is a season of being roused by God’s Law to repentance and, hearing His Gospel, we watch in hope and holy fear for His coming in judgment. We do not, of course, fear that we will receive a judgment of damnation—though complacency and apathy can easily set in if we forget that there will be a judgment. We repent of our unfaithfulness and pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to recreate us in the image of our faithful Lord, Jesus. For all of these reasons, we need a full time of Advent. Already the day after Halloween, the ads are out for Christmas shopping. By the time we actually get to December 25, we are worn out and just ready for it all to be over. The way to a proper and fitting celebration of the Nativity of our Lord is by a proper and fitting preparation during Advent.

Joseph Bottum writes, “Advent genuinely is adventual—a time before, a looking forward—and it lacks meaning without Christmas. But maybe Christmas, in turn, lacks meaning without Advent. All those daily readings from Isaiah, filled with visions of things yet to be, a constant barrage of the future tense: And it shall come to pass . . . And there shall come forth . . . A kind of longing pervades the Old Testament selections read in church over the weeks before Christmas—an anxious, almost sorrowful litany of hope only in what has not yet come. Zephaniah. Judges. Malachi. Numbers. I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.”

And then: “I don’t remember this opposition of Christmas and the Christmas season when I was young. When I was little—ah, the nostalgia of the childhood memoir—I always felt that the days right before Christmas were a time somehow out of time. Christmas Eve, especially, and the arrival of Christmas itself at midnight: The hours moved in ways different from their passage in ordinary time, and the sense of impending completion was somehow like a flavor even to the air we breathed.

I’ve noticed in recent years, however, that the feeling comes over me more rarely than it used to, and for shorter bits of time. I have to pursue the sense of wonder, the taste in the air, and cling to it self-consciously. … It is this that Advent, rightly kept, would prevent—the thing, in fact, it is designed to halt. Through all the preparatory readings, through all the genealogical Jesse trees, the somber candles on the wreaths, the vigils, and the hymns, Advent keeps Christmas on Christmas Day: a fulfillment, a perfection, of what had gone before. I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh.” (You can read the whole thing here: http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2008/11/the-end-of-advent)

For more information on the Advent season: http://issuesetc.org/2011/11/25/the-advent-season-with-pr-bill-cwirla-11252011/

May God bless your Advent preparation, granting you true repentance and, hence, a true celebration of our Lord’s birth, as well as a joyful expectation of His coming on the last Day.

Pr. Winterstein

*St. Augustine said, as Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; but with you I am a Christian.”

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