Advent in 500 Words (Give or Take)

Okay, folks, we’ve just entered a new church season: Advent. The word advent means “a coming into being or use”.  Capitalize the a and the meaning becomes more specific, as in “the coming of Christ at the Incarnation”. And, of course, the season is “the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting”. To be honest, those definitions are all a little clinical. They really don’t convey the import of what happened all those years ago. Nor, why we Christians should be observing this season. Over the next 22 days, I hope to address a little of that. Today, we start with a general overview and a little historical context.

First, the history (don’t roll your eyes like that. This is important and I’m good with history). A little over 2000 years ago, in Palestine, things were not good. The majority of the people lived in grinding poverty and oppression, while a small group of elites enjoyed great wealth and privilege. The poor majority were mostly Jews who had rough go of it after the reigns of Solomon and his father, David. They’d been defeated by several neighboring empires, Assyria and Babylon being the most well-known. Both of these empires took the Israelites into exile, with only the Judeans returning. While they were able to return to their homeland, they did so under the Persian thumb. After the decline of the Persian empire, they found themselves ruled first by the Greeks, then by the Seleucids. While Persian rule had been relatively benign, the Seleucids were a different story, especially Antiochus Ephinanes. Antiochus attempted to impose Hellenistic culture on the Jews in a rather harsh manner,  prompting a national revolt. This resulted in an independent Israel, ruled by the Hasmoneans which lasted a little less than 100 years. Then, Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem and made Israel a client kingdom of Rome. By the 1st century, the Jews were chafing under Roman rule and clamoring for a deliverer. They got one, even if He wasn’t what they expected.

Now that we’re through with the history, a quick and dirty overview of Advent. As noted earlier, the season of Advent consists of “the period beginning four Sundays before Christmas and observed by some Christians as a season of prayer and fasting”. Those of us who observe Advent celebrate Christ entering the world. It is the expectation, anticipation and preparation for God breaking into our lives everywhere; in the past, the present and the future. We commemorate the birth of Jesus, prepare for His return and welcome God into our lives. Advent prepares us for these events, reminds there is joy in waiting and signals the beginning of the church year. Unfortunately, all that tends to get lost in the shuffle of what can be the most hectic time of the year. In the hustle and bustle of the “yearly bacchanalia of peace on earth and good will to men“, all to often materialism trumps peace on earth and greed wins out over goodwill to all. Which is not the reason for the season.

This year, I’m going to do my best to spend more time on Advent and less on all the usual Christmas lunacy. I just hope I can manage it.