I’ve always been a big fan of Advent. Of course, in my childhood it was easy to associate Advent with preparation for Christmas—stores, home, and church being decorated with evergreens and colored lights, the house filled with the scent of cookies and breads in the oven when I came home from school, and carols playing on LPs on our big wooden cabinet stereo. The South Dakota winter was growing colder, darker, and snowier, but indoors was a four-week bustle of growing anticipation.
The King shall come when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks,
When beauty gilds the eastern hills and life to joy awakes.
I also love Advent because I think just about every Advent hymn is a real winner. The tunes are beautiful, many having a nice rhythmic punch that heightens the sense of breathless anticipation. “Prepare the Royal Highway” and “Comfort, Comfort Now My People” have to be among the best hymns in the book.
Not as of old a little child, to bear and fight and die,
But crowned with glory like the sun that lights the morning sky.
It’s not just the melodies of these Advent hymns that I love, but even more so the words. And when I was about ten or eleven years old it hit me that these words weren’t usually about Christmas at all. In fact they speak much more often about the so-called “Second Coming of Christ.” During Advent we are asked to “keep awake,” “prepare our hearts,” and “be cleansed from sin,” being ever watchful for the promised return of our Savior in glory. And as Christians who live with faith, hope, and love, we need not fear this day, but look forward to meeting our Lord in joyful anticipation.
Oh brighter than that glorious morn shall dawn upon our race:
The day when Christ in splendor comes, and we shall see his face.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux wrote in the Twelfth century that there are not two comings of Christ, but three. The third is that presence of Christ that is with us every day of our lives, as he promised: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Bernard writes, “The third is invisible, while the other two are visible.… Let God’s word enter your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Fill your soul with richness and strength. Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.”
It is this Third Coming of Christ that makes Advent most meaningful to me now. In Advent our attention is drawn towards Emmanuel, the God who is With Us all the time but too often forgotten. He is indeed our rest and our consolation, and we can eagerly anticipate his coming today and always.
The King shall come when morning dawns and light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Your people pray: come quickly, King of kings.