“Advent” means “arrival.” When someone we love or think important is coming to see us, we busy ourselves getting ready. We clean the house, mow the lawn or rake the leaves, fill the pantry, and get a haircut.
We’ve just enjoyed our annual national visitation at Thanksgiving, when our homes bustle with family preparations perhaps more than at any other time of the year. Now we’re moving into a different season that marks the coming of our most welcome and anticipated guest: The Lord of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Christians prepare for our Lord’s coming from three vantages: First, we remember his historical incarnation and intervention—what the Bible calls “the fullness of time,” when as a tiny baby Jesus Christ slipped quietly and humbly into our lives in a back-alley barn in a small Judean village.
Second, we await his eventual historical return—what the Bible calls “the day of the Lord,” when a myriad of the heavenly host will follow in Christ’s train as he appears, not just as Redeemer, but as Ruler and Sovereign.
Between these two historical events—in this crease of history—we ask ourselves afresh what it means to welcome our Savior, not just to the world, but to each of us, and to the dark, needy corners and folds of our own lives.
Getting ready for a visit sometimes brings flashes of activity, but sometimes it calls for quiet, for stillness, for silence. Advent offers us a concrete part of our calendar to slow down, to listen, to reflect, and to ponder. It’s a good season to turn the old adage on its head: “Don’t just do something, sit there!”
As we prepare for the “coming of the Lord,” we do well to remember that for quite a while before Jesus was born of Mary, even God was silent. It had been 400 years since the most recent prophet was heard in the Holy Land. Malachi’s was the last Old Testament oracle:
Remember the law of my servant Moses,
The decrees and laws I gave him at Sinai for all Israel.
Behold, I will send you the prophet Elijah
before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.
He will return the hearts of the fathers to their children,
and the hearts of the children to their fathers;
Or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.
After that—silence—400 years of silence! Preaching and teaching, reading and learning, singing and worship continued in their courses. But apparently even God became silent in preparation for the coming Messiah.
But God did not leave himself without a witness. The sweeping revelation of the Old Testament draws our attention to the coming One in painstaking and striking detail in the prophet Micah:
As for you, O watchtower of the flock,
O stronghold of the Daughter of Zion,
the former dominion will be restored to you;
kingship will come to the Daughter of Jerusalem…
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times…
And so it was, above those Judean fields, that God’s silence was broken, when the angel of the Lord and the gathered company of heaven heralded to frightened shepherds the glorious good news of our salvation:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace, goodwill to men.
Through 400 years of silence, for many the promise of God and the blessed hope of Israel had practically faded away. 400 years is a long time to wait. But when those bewildered shepherds heard the joyful power of God’s word in the night skies above their flocks of sheep, Scripture says they hurried to see what had happened!