Advent, Our "Little Lent"
By Fr. Patrick Cardine
"The coming of the Lord is always eventful; it is either for judgment or for salvation, but never without fire."
Advent has been called a little Lent; a penitential time for fasting, repentance and preparation for the Christmas season. The Latin term "adventus" means “coming” and the season is all about the coming of the Lord. One might think that the readings and hymns would focus on the coming of The Christ in the Incarnation, but that is only half of the story. Surprising to some, the Western Rite Lectionary begins Advent not with a focus on His first coming in salvation but on His Second Coming in judgment. This makes sense when one realizes that "adventus" is the Latin translation of the Greek word "parousia," a word most commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ.
How is it that we can speak of God coming? Isn’t He in all places at all times; is there anywhere He is not? The Psalmist finds comfort in God’s omnipresence, saying, “If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.” If indeed God is everywhere how is it that we can say He comes? This of course is a great mystery and perhaps reflects our experience of His presence whether we know Him to be near or feel that He is far. This also speaks of the humility and condescension of God, who restricts the effects of His presence at times out of mercy; for if we are unprepared, even His loving presence can burn. At any rate, there are times in our lives when the presence of God comes and when the Lord unleashes His fiery love upon us for our blessed enjoyment or for our chastisement.
The coming of the Lord is always eventful; it is either for judgment or for salvation, but never without fire. We read of the coming of the Lord in Genesis 3 after Adam and his woman had disobeyed. The pair huddles in the bushes, shivering with fear and hiding from the Lord when they hear him walking in the midst of the garden. And just before the voice of the Lord calls out to them we can imagine Adam turning to his wife, his voice a trembling whisper, saying, “He’s coming, He’s coming!”
While Adam hid, God sought him out. God’s call to Adam, “Where are you?” was not for geographical information nor was it for condemnation, but was the first preaching of the Gospel: an opportunity for the human to repent. Sadly, man did not take hold of the chance at repentance God bestowed but offered excuses and justification. It does not seem right that the greater should come seeking the lesser; it is we who need God, and we should be coming to Him. And yet while we were yet sinners, when we did not love Him or seek Him, when we were too preoccupied with our busy and important lives to give Him a thought; He comes to us. This is the remarkable humility and love of God poured out upon us again and again.
The coming of the Lord should ultimately be joy, and this we sing in the Nativity Feast: “Joy to the world the Lord is come.” But to experience this joy we must first recognize that there will be a reckoning, and we must prepare to receive Him so that when He comes, we will not hide in shame. Prepare your hearts therefore with fasting and penitence and with attention and faithfulness, so that your joy may be full at the coming of the Savior.
The book of Genesis records the beginning of man’s story where we find him hiding in the bushes, not at all excited about the coming of the Lord. But by New Testament times, things have changed, including the normal greeting and the creedal declaration of the early Church, and even part of the Eucharistic dialogue is Maranatha: “O Lord Come!” (I Cor. 16:22)
In fact, if the beginning of the story depicts man as dreading the coming of the Lord, then the second to last verse in the New Testament reveals the cry of hope and anticipation that resounds in the hearts of the Redeemed: “Even so, come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20)
Fr. Patrick Cardine is the pastor of St. Patrick Orthodox Church in Warrenton, Virginia.