The days on the calendar between Thanksgiving and Christmas have historically been a season of preparation and repentance for the church known as advent. This season invites us to experience the emotion of anticipation born out of expectation by retracing the history of Israel as she waited for the arrival of Messiah and paralleling that story with our own waiting for Christ’s second appearing. The word Advent itself means arrival or appearance. Defined in a single sentence, Advent is a four week period in which the church remembers the promises of Jesus’ first coming, and looks forward to his promise to come again.

Preparation in these weeks is evidenced in two ways, both leading to greater joy in celebrating Jesus entry to history and the plight of his people. First is the tracing of the many scripture passages that promise his coming. One example out of the many is Isaiah 9:2, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” The great light is the child of Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Once we see this trajectory in God’s Word, we are lead to the second aspect of preparation, which is repentance. We must ask God to help us grasp with a vitality the life transforming importance of Christ’s first advent. If we are not living out of the new identity his arrival, life, and work bring, then we must seek forgiveness and renewal. Also, we must ask God to help us apprehend with vitality the hope in living with an expectation of Christ’s return. If we are not living out of the perspective-transforming hope this truth gives, then we must seek forgiveness. We must ask God for a future-focused and hope-infused outlook rooted in the promises of Christ’s return when he will complete all that he has begun.

Many of the church’s advent songs help us express these truths. O Come, O Come Emmanuel with its minor key captures the longing we feel as we, like Israel, wait for Messiah. Wesley’s tune Come Thou Long Expected Jesus does this as well. Both songs sing from the perspective of Israel looking forward to the coming of Messiah. We put ourselves in Israel’s position as we work our way toward December 25, the day we celebrate Jesus’ entrance to history.

What we must not miss, however, is the manner in which living between Christ’s first and second advent shapes our identity and mission. In his first advent he captures our hearts and makes us sons and daughters of the great King. In his second advent he comes to reward his children and finish his work of establishing and manifesting his rule over creation.

May your observance of advent and celebration of Christ’s arrival in history renew your faith and stimulate your passion for his mission in the world. A mission you share by knowing Him and making Him known.