Advent prepares us for the Incarnation, but also for the gift of God’s final justice.
A few days ago, I walked into a New Age, vegan grocery store in my Austin neighborhood and noticed something strange: an Advent calendar for sale. As far as I can tell, the store owners have not suddenly become interested in readying their customers for the feast of the Incarnation.
The awkward presence of the Advent calendar in a store devoted mostly to the healing power of mushrooms and crystals is part of the larger secularization of the season of Advent, now purring along to the same commercial hum as secular Christmas. The plethora of Advent calendar themes—from Legos, bath bombs, and teas, all the way up the price scale to Tiffany jewelry—indicates that the season has been overtaken in the long consumerist march from Black Friday to Christmas Day.
I’m not opposed to Advent calendars per se . Of the three “comings” of Christ—the Incarnation, his arrival by the Holy Spirit in the church, and his final coming as king and judge—Advent calendars can help us with the first two. But not the third. Yet, as Fleming Rutledge and others have written, it’s precisely Christ’s third advent that has always been the primary focus of this season of the church calendar. He will return “to judge the living and the dead,” as the Apostles’ Creed says.
When the early Christians began to pray, fast, and give alms in the four Sundays before Christmas, they were mostly preparing themselves to receive in glory the one who had first become their savior in the manger.
From the fourth century onward, hope for the coming judgment of Christ was embedded in the shape of the season. Advent hope is preeminently about hope for the return of Jesus. Even now, …