Last Sunday, November 29 marked the beginning of Advent, the first of twenty-five days when we get ready for the great event of Christ’s birth. The word itself has its roots in the Latin, adventus which translates as ‘arrival’, from advenire – ad meaning ‘to’ and venire– ‘come’. Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for the Lord’s coming at Christmas.
In ancient Rome, Adventus was a technical term forthe glorious entry of an emperor into his capital city. Often this happened after a military victory. In addition to celebrating conquest on the battlefield, the birthday of the royal leader was also commemorated in an Adventus. Advent then is a most fitting word to describe the period leading up to Christmas as what we celebrate is the king, an emperor, one who was both fully man and fully God.
Advent and Lent are both journeys but they appear, at first glance, to have very different destinations. One leads to the birth of Jesus in a stable at Bethlehem; the other to his death on a cross at Golgotha. The first heralds his life and time here on earth in the home of Mary and Joseph, his father in Nazareth; the second his eternal life with God the Father in Heaven.
While each of these seasons embodies aspects of preparation and penance, Advent is mainly preparation and Lent is mainly penance. The 40 day period of Lent is based on 2 episodes of spiritual testing in the Bible: the 40 years of wilderness wandering by the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt (Numbers: 33:38 and Deuteronomy 1:3) and the temptation of Jesus while fasting in the desert after his baptism (Matthew 4:1-11), (Luke 4:1-13). Ash Wednesday marks the first of 40 days prior to Easter (technically 46, as Sundays are not included in the count).
By observing these 40 days Christians replicate the trials of Jesus in the desert so Lent is marked by fasting from food, drink, and festivities. The purpose of the Lenten season is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ – to consider his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial, and resurrection.
Both Advent and Lent prompt us to examine our hearts and lives in light of Jesus – specifically his arrival and his death. Many people choose to fast in Advent as part of making themselves ready for the wonderful moment when God broke into human history. Some see it as an antidote to the excessive emphasis on food and drink and the general invitation to over-indulgence which is so much a feature of the commercial build-up to Christmas.
Yet the Same
While the world anticipates Christmas in red and green, the Church uses purple which is the colour of royalty but also of penitence. Like Lent, Advent is a paradoxical season. We look forward to the birth of Jesus but we also know that he was ultimately born to die.
Salvation cannot happen without the birth of Jesus but salvation actually happens through the death and resurrection of Christ. Some have seen the cross foreshadowed in the wood of the manager and the linen shroud in the swaddling clothes.
In a sense, it is the resurrection that is the beginning of the story. The one who proclaimed the Kingdom in his lifetime is himself proclaimed after his resurrection. God’s final redemptive act has been exercised in and through the risen Lord. And so we end where we began. All else in the New Testament flows backward from the resurrection to the crucifixion, passion, ministry, early life, birth.
Thus in a way the two journeys are the same. There is blood at the beginning and at the end; the juxtaposition of Bethlehem and Calvary pointing to the same event; the birth leading to the death which leads to salvation.
Light into Darkness; Darkness into Light
As Advent progresses it tends to grow brighter. This is symbolized in the lighting of successive candles each week. Lent, by contrast, becomes progressively darker as it moves onward until the darkest time, the Triduum Sacrum, the journey of Christ’s passion which begins on Holy Thursday, on the eve of the execution.
Three men died on crosses on that Friday in occupied Palestine. The executions were relatively routine. And so, too was the mode of execution. Without question, the Roman authorities regarded all three as trouble-makers, disturbers of the Roman peace. Over the head of one of them, however, the Romans affixed a sign “The King of the Jews”, obviously in a spirit of derision and contempt. If we could return to Calvary on that fateful day, that is all we would have seen: three men being put to death by crucifixion. And yet one of the three, the one they called “King of the Jews”, would rise again and live in the midst of his followers in a new and more powerful way than before.
The babe we prepare for during Advent and the man we prepare to see die after Lent is one and the same Son of God, whose resurrection at Easter has redeemed the world from sin and death and overcome all powers of darkness.
Let us prepare then with love in our hearts to welcome Our Saviour.
Written By Marie – Therese Cryan