What is Advent all about?

As we begin to count down towards Christmas and majority are feeling jolly including myself, it is important to reflect on the season when Jesus was born. This is traditionally known as advent coming from the latin word adventus which was translated from the Greek word Parousia. Parousia describes the coming of Jesus but it also means presence and signifies the presence of God with us. The New Testament writers, while they did not use the word advent because they were primarily writing in Greek and not Latin, talks about the parousia of Jesus in two stages.

The first stage was his birth and the ushering in of God’s kingdom on earth. The second is when he will come again and begin the end. I want to focus in this article on the first coming of Jesus. The various New Testament writers describes this coming in different language. Matthew tells us he was born of a virgin interpreting and applying Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 7:14. Matthew went further to tell us how significant Jesus birth was by the visit of the Magi who in some tradition are regarded as Kings. They brought gifts to Jesus all of which are very symbolic in terms of his ministry and mission as the Messiah. While Matthew was weaving the birth narratives explaining it in relation to the Old Testament, Luke on the other hand, appears to be describing the coming of Jesus in terms of political history. Luke was the one that mentioned that there was a census that led to Jesus family going back to their home town of Bethlehem. In addition, he mentioned the political powers that be in those days grounding the birth of Jesus in historical context. Luke however had more than a historical Jesus in mind as he mentioned that this Messiah was actually born in a horse’s stable, the lowest of low places and an unlikely place for a King to be born. This contrast Jesus with the Ceasars of the day or the Herods who were Kings ruling from a vast palace.

Luke also tells us that some classless group of people came to visit Jesus. These were the shepherds, the commoners in those days. The choir of angels appear to have organised and did the first Carol Service for them in order that they might go and see Jesus!

While Matthew and Luke explains Jesus first coming in terms of his birth. Mark and John appears to skip this birth narratives. Mark started his Gospel with an introduction of Jesus as the Son of God and the ministry of John the Baptist bearing witness to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. John following similar path, however departed by examining the origins of Jesus before he was born as a child. This beginning of Jesus, John asserts is the beginning of God (see John 1:2). While John would have been aware of Jesus birth stories, he did not preoccupy himself with that as he wanted to demonstrate that Jesus was eternal before his birth. He also appears to clarify perhaps some confusion around who was the Messiah, Jesus or John the Baptist by explaining that John came to bear witness to Jesus.

The climax of John’s understanding of  Jesus coming was his description of Jesus becoming human and living with us and like one of us (John 1:14). This is usually regarded as the incarnation, that is, God becoming human. I want to suggest that the church  continues the first advent or coming of Jesus as we have been charged to continue the mission of Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20). Infact, it is continuing this mission that will lead to the second stage of Jesus coming. The big question is how do the church continue to make Jesus human to our neighbours, work colleagues, friends and families so that they can at least touch his humanity and feel that he is real? For this to happen, we as Christians must first of all be human and real to people. We can not afford to adopt some form of heavenly language that does not touch on real life situations that faces people or live a life style that says something different from what we preach.

People out there are looking for real people so lets keep it real this Christmas so that Jesus can once again become human!

About israelolofinjana

Rev Israel Oluwole Olofinjana is an ordained and accredited Baptist minister and has pastored Crofton Park Baptist Church (2007-2011) and Catford Community Church (2011-2013). He is currently the pastor of Woolwich Central Baptist Church, a multicultural church in south east London. He is Nigerian coming from a Pentecostal background. He holds a BA (Hons) in Religious Studies from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and MTh from Carolina University of Theology (CUT). Israel is the editor of “Turning the Tables on Mission: Stories of Christians from the Global South in the UK” and author of “Reverse in Ministry and Missions: Africans in the Dark Continent of Europe” and “20 Pentecostal Pioneers in Nigeria” He has spoken in a number of conferences regarding reverse mission and Black Majority Churches (BMCs) and has also contributed to academic journals and Christian magazines on the subject of Black Majority Churches (BMC) in Britain. He is an Honorary Research Fellow at Queens Foundation, Birmingham and a trustee and visiting lecturer at Redcliffe College. Israel is also one of the Directors of Centre for Missionaries from the Majority World an initiative design to train and equip pastors and missionaries from the South. He is a member of the Global Connections council. When he is not preaching or writing he is playing with Lego! He is happily married to Lucy who works as the Media and Communications Officer with Churches Together in England. She is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), earning a BA in Social Anthropology and International Development. Lucy loves baking and watching movies! They are blessed with one son, Iyanuoluwa (God's miracle)
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2 Responses to What is Advent all about?

  1. Thank you my brother Israel for your insights on Advent. This was the exact sentiment I expressed in my preaching at Honor Oak Baptist Church last Sunday. I questioned the Advent paradox of darkness and light as though God incarnate, means anything or everything in this present world. If we ministers are really honest, preaching only peace, love, hope, joy… during this season, we may begin to understand some may receive our sermons with reservation. Advent embraces darkness realities of life and people need to hear less of a seemingly quaint make-believe not really real world. I believe it detracts from the Gospel essence of real liberation, in all its forms, and only adds to the feel good spirit peddlers of the season. People experience dark life situations daily, it’s a very real reality for most.

    Yet there is another reality, this reality is a light that darkness can never extinguish. The first Advent reality was Christ piecing human history, the Second Advent reality will inaugurate humanity piecing the heavenly realm with Christ. Advent radiates Eschatology. God has come, God with us ‘Emmanuel’ is celebrated during every Christmas past to Christmas present, however, because Christ had come, the end had also been written for the beginning of time. We are the people of promise, we await the fulfilment of the Second Advent. Advent commissions us to share and bring that hope to our contemporary world. How we ministers present eschatological hope in dark places is very dependent on our understanding the Advent paradox of darkness and light. In Advent we become all we can be, most of all aware of our weakness and our need for God’s grace for us and for those who feel forsaken. We become voices crying out in the wilderness of post modernism ‘prepare the way of the Lord for his second coming’.Like in Isaiah 9:2 ‘The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light’. Let’s remember we are the children of light, we are in the world and not of the world, however, the cliché still stands, ‘let’s not be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good’. The world wants us to rush people out of their discomfort and usher us into merry making and cheer, who turn Christmas into a temporary antidote to our pain and suffering.

    Advent: calls us to prepare – for life’s challenges and for the Lord’s second coming, calls us to keep awake – by being vigilant and sober minded, calls us to see the darkness of our world – i.e. the social, moral, physical and spiritual darkness, calls us to face sorrow – in tolerance, forbearance and long suffering, calls us to have patients – slow to anger. May the good Lord give us the grace to live and have this type of Advent nature. May God help us to seek him and find him in dark places.

    Have blessed Christmas. God bless and keep you always my brother in Christ.

    Michael Lovejoy

    • Thanks Michael for your thoughtful and reflective comment. This shows you have had the time to process the meaning of advent and I know preach and teach about it! What is you have shared here is very true! God bless brother

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