Advent promises to bring us into that contemplative space that says, “We are one step closer to the coming of Christ; fulfillment is at hand because the One who fills all things has come, comes, and will come again.” Put differently, Advent is about the coming of Christ, three times over: past, present and future. Each coming is in and of itself momentous and solicits requisite preparation, acknowledgment and celebration.
The Advent of the Christ has occurred. The Son of God was born of the Virgin Mary. And, yet, that Advent has ongoing and climatic elements. All three time referents hinge on the bodily presence of Christ Jesus, such that is captured in the liturgical Memorial Acclamation: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will Come again!” Again, the theme is the presence, activity, and accomplishments of the Lord Jesus. “Christ has died” encapsulates the climax of the first Advent. The birth, life, and death of Jesus accomplished salvation — here we have the first fulfillment. “Christ is risen” sets forth not only the resurrection but also the pledged and ongoing presence of Christ in the Eucharist: hence the Memorial Acclamation’s conspicuous placement within the Eucharistic liturgy. Recalling the fulfillment of the Passover Haggadah on the cross whereby Christ’s shed blood coupled with drinking the last cup of the “fruit of vine” constitutes or “finishes” (John 19:30) the transference from the old into the new covenant, Christ rises to be truly present for his people as the once-crucified-now-resurrected Bread of Life/Drink of God. “Christ is risen” heralds the ongoing act of Christic self-giving in Holy Communion as the fulfillment of the promise, “Surely I will be with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Lastly, “Christ will come again” jolts the Church to own the fact that this current state of affairs has a terminal point, and it is ever upon us. Consequently, the Advents of Christ (past, present, and future) elicit faith in the word of Christ, confirmed by his presence. He has come. He comes. And he shall come again. Now, therefore, is the time of faith; now is the time for faithfulness.
The First Sunday in Advent isn’t merely the start of Advent but also the church year. The church year, however, has a shape: it is more like a circle than a straight line. The cycle of the seasons of the church’s year repeats as we move through time in celebration of or in greater dependence upon the grace of God. The season of Advent stresses our need to be renewed by that grace as we focus especially on the three comings of our Lord — born of Blessed Virgin Mary, born of bread and wine, born upon the clouds and at last standing upon a renewed earth. That’s what the word “Advent” means, of course. Advent is “coming” and the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church has rightly and therefore traditionally celebrated these various “comings” of the Lord Jesus Christ in Advent.
Advent, therefore, presents an ideal opportunity for us to engage our imaginations, weaning them from postmodernity’s post-Christian “social imaginary,” in which the presence of God has been entirely ruled out. What is more, Advent presents a deeply and honestly biblical framework for those believers who affirm the presence of God in Christ to actually find him where and how he said he would be present — in the pure preaching of the Gospel and the Sacraments administered according to the Gospel.
Advent, therefore, presents an ideal opportunity for us to engage our imaginations, weaning them from postmodernity’s post-Christian “social imaginary,” in which the presence of God has been entirely ruled out.
Stated plainly, the Advents of Christ countermand all attempts to domesticate Christ through sentimentalism (a la Victorian Christmas) or docetism (spirit-Jesus in my heart). All the Advent enfleshment depictions of the one Christ (crucified Christ, transformed by the resurrection Christ, glorified Christ) bespeak of and terminate in the atonement. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; the blood of the new covenant shed for you for the forgiveness of sins; the Lamb who was slain.
Advent is a time of expectation; it is a time of remembrance; it is a time of hope; and it is especially a time of preparation by faith for all his comings. With Christmas ever looming over the heads of our auditors (thanks to the undignified commercialization of the event compounded by consumer impulses), preachers do well to terminate sermons about the future coming of Christ and the anniversary celebration of Christmas in the here-and-now communing upon the flesh of Christ — the Communion of Incarnation — especially since the first Advent was purposed to this end (foreshadowed by the infant being placed in a feeding trough) and the final Advent will inaugurate an eternal feasting on him as the fruit of the Tree of Life (Rev. 22:2).