Faculty Reflection: Dr. Erik Heen on Advent
by Erik Heen
Romans 13:12 “The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”
Like Lent, Advent is a season of preparation that interrupts the flow of the church year. It is a “betwixt and between” place where extraordinary things can happen. In it Christian hope is born, a hope that is certain about the promises of God’s coming to us, for us. It also can be a place and time in which the compassion for all, buried deep within each of us through our baptism into Christ, is stirred to new life.
The word “Advent” comes from the Latin advents, a translation of the Greek parousia which can mean “coming” (1 Cor 15:23), though the Greek parousia can also mean, simply, “presence” (2 Cor 10:10). As a season of preparation for the arrival of Christ, Advent is a time in which traditionally has included repentance. The English “repentance” comes from the Greek metavoia that suggests being turned toward Christ in an intentional way which involves a change of mind as well as heart. As we find ourselves waiting for the coming of Christ, the hope of this season might therefore include, as 2 Tim 2:25 puts it, that “God may perhaps grant that [we] will repent and come to know the truth” both about the deep limitations in our ability to focus on the needs of others as well as the wideness of God’s mercy.
Though most of us focus on the miracle of the birth of Emmanuel (God-with-us; Matt 1:23) during this time, there are actually three “advents” to which that we might attend:
(1) The Advent of the Baby Jesus — the coming of our salvation in Christ that we celebrate in the Christmas season, the 12-day extended “Festival of the Incarnation.”
(2) The adventus/parousia of Christ at the End of Days, the revelation of God’s triumph over all evil, a reality we know now only know by faith.
(3) The Advent of Christ in the proclamation of the Word of God experienced as Law (which reveals our Sin) and Gospel (that gives us new life), as well as in the and Sacraments of the church, most clearly experienced in the “real presence” (parousia) of Christ in the Lord’s Supper.
“Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” This exhortation of Paul’s is grounded in God’s gift (charis) to us in Christ (John 1:5). This grace is experienced in many ways: the good news of the birth of Jesus, in the adventus of God’s promise that evil will not have the last word, and in the real presence of Jesus in the wine and bread of our holy communion. All this and more is expressed in the great hymn “O Come O Come, Emanuel,” the fourth verse of which pleads:
O come, O King of nations come,
O Cornerstone that binds in One:
Refresh the hearts that long for you;
Restore the broken, make us new.
Erik Heen, PhD, is the John H. P. Reumann Chair in Biblical Studies at LTSP.