The True Meaning of Advent

For Advent this year I'm re-reading Fleming Rutledge's collection of sermons and writings about Advent

A key point made by Rutledge is that we've lost sight of the true meaning of Advent. By "true meaning" I mean "church historical" meaning. 

Like so many things, Advent has succumbed to "Christmas capture." Advent is simply a way to extend the Christmas season. And, of course, Advent is looking forward to the "first coming" of Christ in the Incarnation. Advent prepares for Christmas. 

But the main focus of Advent in church history has always been looking forward to and preparing for the "second coming" of Christ in eschatological vindication, victory and judgment. (This is also sometimes called the "third coming." The "second coming," in this scheme, is identified with the coming of Christ into our lives upon our baptism.) 

The focus of Advent upon the Second Coming of Christ, with its demand for constant watchfulness, is rarely talked about in our churches during the weeks leading up to Christmas. That topic is too anxiety-inducing and has a judgey vibe. And so, we keep Advent strictly focused upon the Baby Jesus. Advent becomes wholly about the past, and loses its future-oriented, eschatological aspect. 

Do you know the church has traditionally used for Advent texts? Passages like this one from Matthew 25:

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour."
Few churches, I'm guessing, will preach the Parable of the Ten Virgins during this Advent season. But this parable gets to the true--church historical--meaning of Advent: "Keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour" of the Lord's coming.

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