Advent has an eschatological emphasis that sometimes seems out of place with the world’s busy holiday, but it is actually a helpful antidote to the stress and unrealistic expectations of the season.
The traditional color for Advent is violet. Violet is supposed to be purple, the color of royalty, mixed with black, the color for mourning. Some churches now use blue for Advent, which is meant to be the color of hope. Either way, Advent is a mini-Lent. Advent is preparation for Christmas even as Lent is preparation for Easter. Much to the chagrin of our fallen flesh, the Church always prepares in the same way: repentance. That seems like an unhappy thing, but it isn’t.
John the Baptist is the Advent preacher par excellance. He didn’t announce the Lord’s birth to shepherds, but warned of coming wrath. He was a preacher of repentance but he also proclaimed the escape from that wrath that God has provided in the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Advent isn’t a baby shower. We aren’t getting ready for a baby to be born in Bethlehem. That train has already left the station. We celebrate that birth, to be sure, but whatever the season, following our Lord’s command that we be vigilant for the end, we are always preparing His return. There will be a judgment. The goats will be separated from the sheep. It will be scary, but it will be joyous for the baptized because they will finally and fully be relieved of their sins.
Repentance isn’t an unhappy thing because it is part of faith and faith, even in its sorrow and mourning, is always joyous. Don’t get me wrong. The fear of the Lord is more than respect. God threatens to punish all who break His commandments. We don’t simply “respect” His wrath, but we fear it, and we strive to obey His commandments because of that fear. But there is more in us, by grace, than fear, even as there is more in repentance than simply sorrow over sin. There is also love and trust, and in that we gladly obey what God has commanded.
John says: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” That is an eschatological reality. For Him to take away sin, means we have sins, that it is our fault, and for Him to take them away means that He must take them upon Himself and then suffer and die for them. The Babe born to Mary is born to be a Sacrifice and guilt offering. That is a horrible and yet at the same time a joyous thing for faith, for those who fear, love, and trust in God. That joyous sobriety, with an eye toward the end, is the real gift of the season and the cure for what ails and stresses us.
The Rev. David Petersen is senior pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Ind.