What does Advent mean to you? Does Advent mean that from 'Stir up Sunday' we start looking forward in anticipation to Christmas? Yes, perhaps that is the immediate reaction of many people, and regrettably, like a lot of the church's festivals these days, Advent and the lead up to Christmas has been hijacked by the cathedrals of commerce so that the spiritual aspects are buried beneath the avalanche of presents, tinsel, lights and rubbishy Advent calendars.
So, what then do we really mean by Advent, spiritually? Of course, it is the time of preparation that leads up to the celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus some 2000 years ago, an event which is described in the Bible as being the wondrous thing it is – of the Christ child being born in such lowly conditions, of the simple shepherds coming to see Him and to welcome him into the world after they had been told of the wonderful event by the breathtaking singing of a choir of angels – 'Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, peace to all men' – and He, taking on our nature by our Lord so that He might die for us all and redeem us on the first Easter.
But what else? Many times in the Bible we are told that our Lord will return - as the disciples are told when Jesus ascended – 'This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven'. So shouldn't we be looking forward also to the Second Advent? – to the second coming of Christ? – when, as we are told, He will return in glory, surrounded by His heavenly host (Matt. 24. 30; Rev. 1.7). Jesus first came as a weak child born in humble earthly conditions, but when He comes a second time, it will be in great spiritual glory and then He will take up the government of the earth.
No matter how much man tries, the world is becoming a darker and darker place – as some say, 'it's getting madder and badder by the day'. What is happening in the world today is a tragic exhibition of man's utter failure to rise above this darkness or to deliver men from suffering. And falsehood and deceit have become a recognised means to achieve men's aims.
And why should this have occurred? Is it not the belief that by his own works man will overcome all, that he will even go so far as to attempt to play God by trying to create life? Should we not also realise that Christians are making Christ into a symbol of their faith in man, that this is the attitude of a vast number of so-called professing Christians? – where they imagine in a distorted fashion that by adopting the high moral standards which Christianity demands, man will prove himself capable of his own deliverance? And when the Bible seems too strict to the 'modern' way of thinking, it is 'adapted' to suit the thinking of the moment – just as the Jews did in Jesus' time.
And what should we do? In the Bible, we are many times exhorted to repent - we should ask God's forgiveness for the way man has gone his own way and not God's way, that we have allowed our faith to become earth-bound and not heaven-bound, having allowed ourselves to become 'comfortable' in our earthly material condition and forgetting that it is our spiritual condition for which we should be searching and striving.
Therefore, let us be like the Five Wise Virgins awaiting the Bridegroom, prepared and waiting with wicks trimmed and spare oil for our lamps - that is, we should be full of spiritual hope and longing for our Lord, and together we will wait patiently and pray fervently for the only thing which will save this world from total darkness – the coming of the Bridegroom to the Wedding Feast - the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in all his glory.