Advent has always struck me as an odd season of the year. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin, adventus, which means arrival or approach. Our minds and our hearts are turned towards the Advent of Christ at Christmas, yet the great Advent themes expressed in our lectionary are the coming of Christ at the end of the world, and the accompanying themes of death, judgement, heaven and hell.
In conversation today with our appliance repairman the discussion turned to the stress people feel around this time of year. What was on his mind was the first of the Advent themes, death, and the implication of judgement, heaven and hell. Having had conversations with him a couple of times before I wasn’t entirely surprised. One of the things that we were discussing was the moment of dying. One minute the person is there; the next moment the person has left and only the shell remains.
We talked about what happens when we die. My repairman friend is badly crippled and he is looking forward to being absent from his body and alive in heaven with Christ Jesus, and he looks forward to having a new physical body with legs that are fit for running and jumping.
It turned out that there was a serious point behind all this. My friend’s older brother died last week. One minute he was there, and the next moment he was gone and only his worn out body remained.
All of that comes crashing home during the Christmas season as a counterpoint to Christmas joy. Christ comes to be born in the world just as we experience it. It helps a great deal to understand that it’s not about shopping, gifts, Christmas Muzak in the stores, and eating enough to make us nauseous, although we will in all likelihood do all these things.
Consider the nature of this Advent of Christ, called Christmas, or more accurately The Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who comes to be born a human child, God uniting himself with our flesh for ever. That act of humility is incredible. In a lovely poem Christina Rossetti wrote:
Lord God of Mary,
Whom His lips caress
While He rocks to rest
On her milky breast
In the midst of the inevitability of death we celebrate the birth of Christ Jesus in Bethlehem, an historical act that is eternally present. Rejoice. The King is Coming.
1 Christina Rossetti, “A Christmas Carol”, Christina Rossetti: The Complete Poems, (London: Penguin, 2005), p. 383