“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”- John 14:1-3
There are two common mistakes that people make when it comes to the celebration of Advent. The first is in thinking that Advent is basically what might be called a “Christmas pre-show,” a time period where people prepare for the day of Christ’s birth. The second mistake is to assume that the purpose of Advent is to commemorate the historical time when the Jews waited for the Messiah. We read through the Psalms, through Isaiah, through Jeremiah, of the many, many years of waiting, and believe that we celebrate Advent to honor and remember that long period of waiting.
While both of these things are common usages of the Advent season, it is not the truest purpose of the celebration. When we sing the popular song “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” the people at the heart of the song are not the ancient Jews, but rather us. Unlike the Jews, we know the name and identity of the Messiah: Jesus Christ. We know the time when He was born and the location. We know of His teachings, and we know of His death.
Yet there is more to the story, for we are told in the above verses, and many other verses throughout the Bible, that Christ will come again.in all His glory. We are told that in will come unexpectedly, and that no one knows the hour of this coming. It is to some a cause of fear; it is an apocalyptic event, an ending to all things we know and a transformation into something entirely new.
The people during the time of the Apostle Paul believed that the Second Coming was something that they would all live to see. It was very important to them to believe in this vision. At the time, they were hunted and persecuted for their religious beliefs. Their friends and families were being executed. Naturally, they hoped that Christ would return to free them from this tyrannical situation. It gave them the courage to live boldly the way they had been called.
Nowadays, we have lost some of that hope. Many generations have passed since those early Christians who believed that Christ’s return was imminent, and not a one of them has seen the Second Coming. Logically then we also believe that we will not see it either, that we will die before Christ returns. This is certainly possible, maybe even probably. But in losing the hope, we have lost what the message of Advent is all about. It is about recognizing that we still live in a broken world, filled with people who are oppressed. It is about knowing that there is only one possible way to end the violence and hatred endemic to human culture. And it is about placing our hope in the fact that someday, even if we do not live to see it, Christ will come again.