Advent is a four-week season of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas, much like Lent before Easter. Advent means “coming.” In the ancient church it was set aside as a time of fasting, prayer, and generosity as believers consciously prepared themselves for the future advent of Christ (i.e., His second coming), even as they prepared to celebrate the past advent of Christ (i.e., Christmas day). This year, we will be taking some time during the four weeks of Advent to prepare ourselves for the future coming of Christ by reflecting on passages about the “End Times.” The word “Maranatha” means “Come, Lord!” It is a short prayer used in a few places in the Bible, including I Corinthians and Revelation.
We (the pastors) have had a number of people ask us over the years: “What does our church believe about the end times?” And the answer, of course, is that we believe what Scripture says. But when it comes to the end times, of course, even Christians who hold many things in common can strongly disagree. In the Reformed tradition, we hold to what I see as a kind of holy indifference. We do not speculate about things that are beyond our ability to know. Nevertheless,Scripture is clear: Christ will come again in glory, the dead will be raised, Christ will judge the living and the dead, and the creation will be made new. In this we put our hope, and in this we trust God’s revelation and God’s providence.
Advent is a season of anticipation, hope, and comfort; but it is also a season of waiting, lament, and darkness (“a light shines in the darkness” is kind of the whole point of candlelight services). We are, naturally and appropriately, excited about the coming of Christmas (and, hopefully, for
Christ’s return!); but at the same time we recognize with an appropriate sorrow that things are not the way they are supposed to be—and the coming of Christmas season can highlight the many ways that the Kingdom of God has not been realized. For many, the holiday season is a time that highlights their loneliness, anxiety, family strife, broken relationships, unemployment, failed goals, and depression. Allowing Advent to speak to the ways in which the Kingdom of God, while begun in Jesus, is not yet fully realized until Christ comes again can bring comfort to people who are suffering. Even for those who are not suffering, it is still a good reminder that Christmas and
Advent are about waiting for the coming of our Lord, not about the economic pursuits that our culture attaches to the holiday season.