Advent and the Bible

The English word ‘advent’ is not in the English Bible.

Neil Rees. December 3, 2021. Advent and the BibleBritish and Foreign Bible Society. Retrieved from: https://www.biblesociety.org.uk/.

However, the word is biblical in the sense that the word advent came into English from the Latin adventus meaning ‘arrived’, which appears many times in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. In the New Testament forms of this word were used to translate the Greek word parousia, meaning arrival, coming, or presence. In normal English advent is used to describe the arrival of a new era, e.g. ‘the advent of the motor car’.

The great Cistercian monk St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), described the arrival of Christ in three different ways, and his definitions have become standard in the Western Christian tradition.

1. Advent of Christmas

Many Christians will use Advent to describe the time coming up towards Christmas, sometimes called the First Advent. Historically the pre-Christmas Advent operated in a similar way to the time before Easter, called Lent, which was a time of preparation for the feast itself.

Popular Christmas Advent calendars start on 1 December, but Advent sometimes starts in November. In many churches Advent starts on Advent Sunday, which is the first of the four Sundays before Christmas. Unlike Easter Day which is always on a Sunday, Christmas Day can fall on any day of the week, which means that Advent Sunday can be as early as 27 November, or as late as 3 December. In 2021 it falls on 28 November. Advent only starts on 1 December when Christmas Day is a Wednesday (as happened in 2019). Advent ends on Christmas Eve on 24 December.

During the season of Advent, churches consider the biblical stories which precede the birth of Christ. They look at the Old Testament prophecies of the coming Messiah, the birth of John the Baptist who prepared the way, and then at the birth of Jesus. The nativity narratives are only found in the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke. Mark and John did not record them, perhaps because for them the story of the crucifixion and the resurrection were much more important.

Advent and Christmas fall about the same time as the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights. The tradition of lighting candles through Advent echoes the Jewish tradition of lighting a Hanukkah menorah.

2. The Second Advent

The Second Coming of Christ is sometimes called the second advent. Some traditions which emphasise this teaching are called Adventist churches. The theology connected to Christ’s second advent is called ‘eschatology’. Many people have predicted the date of the Second Coming and have been proven wrong, so if you don’t understand eschatology it is not the end of the world. The idea of the return of Jesus is one of those beliefs which is shared by Christians and also by Muslims.

3. Advent of new life

We now live in a time between the first and second advents of Christ. The third sense of the use of the word describes the advent of Christ into our lives, when Jesus comes into the heart of the believer. The idea of Jesus coming into our lives is found in different verses in the Bible. In John 14.23 he says that if anyone loves him and obeys his teaching then ‘my Father will love them, and my Father and I will come to them and live with them’(GNB). Then in Revelation 3.20 John reports him as saying, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in …’ (ESV).

A well-known Christmas song which covers two senses of advent is O Little Town of Bethlehem. The first two verses are about the advent of Christ in Bethlehem, and the last two about the advent of Christ in our lives – we sing, ‘Cast out our sin and enter in/ Be born in us today.’