The English word advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “arrival” or “appearance.” This might seem odd; Advent is often described as a season of anticipation in which we prepare for what is coming. Furthermore, Advent occurs immediately before the Christmas season, which begins with the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Christmas day commemorates the appearance — the adventus — of Jesus in the flesh. And yet, the seasons of Advent and Christmas are also wholly distinct.
Through this seeming discrepancy, Advent offers us a thoroughly biblical paradox. Perhaps surprisingly, the New Testament describes Jesus’ return as being like that of a thief (1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10). Peter’s imagery is especially clear: “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.” Such events simply cannot be prepared for: they will be an absolute interruption.
The first advent of Jesus was no different. We see this especially in the Gospel according to Luke. Neither the priest Zechariah nor the Virgin Mary were prepared for the coming of Christ. In each of these instances, angels announced the Lord’s birth with the same words: “Do not be afraid” (Luke 1:13, 1:30). The saints of old were not prepared; how could they be? Revelation is always disorienting. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite.
In Advent, we not only look forward to the Christmas that will soon arrive; we also look back upon an unexpected birth that changed the world so very long ago. In Advent, we confess that we ourselves have already been interrupted by Jesus — and we also hope, pray, and long for the final interruption that will bring all things to a new beginning. ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (Rev. 22:20).
This devotion was originally written for Trinity Episcopal Church in Lawrence, Kansas.