Prophet (Le Prophete)

Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 1902.
Rosenwald Collection, National Gallery of Art (public domain)

[The following post is from the introduction to my Year ‘A’ 2019-2020 Advent book entitled, “What to Hope In When There Is No Hope”, Copyright © 2019 by V. Rev. David L. Rogers].


The Season of Advent is again upon us in the Year of Our Lord 2019. It relates two events pertaining to how Christianity sanctifies time.  Advent abruptly transitions from the consummation of the prior Christian year (Christ the King) with its inaugural announcement of the second coming of Christ. Then Advent moves the worshiping congregants toward the celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God.  There can be no second coming of the Christ apart from pondering the first, the birth of the Prophet of Nazareth. Again and again in Judeo-Christian thought, an incredible, unimaginable end is sometimes viewed from a humble beginning.

The celebration of a season preparatory to the Nativity of Our Lord dates from early medieval times, but in a variety of different forms. Its present four-week form in the Western Rite calendars came centuries later.  The Feast of St. Andrew is November 30 each year. It is the ‘New Year’s Day’ of the Christian calendar, so designated as St. Andrew was the first apostle in the Gospel accounts to follow Jesus. The Sunday nearest St. Andrew, Apostle, then becomes the First Sunday in Advent each year. There are always four Sundays in Advent. The season has two foci. From the First Sunday to December 16 the focus is on the coming of Christ in judgment. From December 17 to Christmas Eve, we look toward the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Hymns, liturgies, symbols, etc. appropriate for the Christmas celebration are not appropriate before the Fourth Sunday in Advent, celebrating the Virgin Mary and the Annunciation to her.  So the Nativity is understood from the Advent viewpoint as the assurance of His coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  Christ came once, and He said that He will come again.  This is the essential meaning of Advent.


The very nature of the season is a liturgical protest and thus makes war upon this culture’s profanation of the birth of the Messiah promised to Israel and to the gentiles.

But is the Season simply that? Advent’s ancient origins in the tradition as preparatory to the Nativity on December 25  testifies to the fact that Advent did not arise to somehow ‘protect’ the Christmas season or be a bulwark against a social distortion of the Twelve Days that follow Advent. I have heard that opinion expressed by a few who want to ‘rethink’ Advent or to rid the Church Calendar of the season entirely, an opinion lacking in historical perspective. The current “Twelve Days of Christmas” season was in place sometime around the twelfth century. The societal and cultural distortions did not take place until modern times. The dating of the birth of Jesus had been hotly argued since the pre-Constantinian times and the basis for figuring the date was also widely varied. The sum is that the earlier forms of Advent were decidedly preparatory to Christmas Day. My own understanding accepts the Christian Calendar as currently understood, the Advent season preparatory to the Christmas celebration of the Twelve Days but primarily to the Nativity proper.

We note, however, that in our present time the season may indeed serve that very purpose for the faithful, yes, a bulwark against the “door-buster-sale” rush to give everyone a gift for no apparent reason.

One reason behind the cultural distortion of the Advent season is what I label the “baby-Jesus syndrome”. The annual drawn-out celebration of a birth understood only by a minority of those who partake of it tends to stop there. I offer that thought as if the masses understand the character of December 25 at all, or that many care. The ‘baby-Jesus’ remains that, to those who fail to remind themselves that Jesus grew up, was crucified, raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God, and “will come again to judge the living and the dead.” Via the Advent season, Christians meet not only the babe of Bethlehem, but the adult Lord who redeemed them, living, all-powerful, all-interested in who and what we are and are becoming, triumphant over death and hell itself, “whose kingdom shall have no end!”

How is the foretold birth of Jesus of Nazareth then profaned by our North American culture! It ‘jumps the gun’ unimaginably when one shops in a supermarket or mall environment and is treated to “Silver Bells” and “White Christmas” before Thanksgiving. Recently I have even heard ‘Christmas’ music before Halloween. The purpose is all too obvious, to begin the annual spending orgy labeled by the singer Mac Davis in the 1970s as “Commerce Day”, as early as the commercial interests feel they can get away with it.

And is it any wonder that the so-called “holidays” are hard to beat for instances of depression, loneliness, despondency, and sorrier sorts of misery? Why is it that there comes an increase of domestic violence at this time of year? And why is it that when the birth of the Savior finally arrives, so many are simply sick of it??  Is it merely a matter of commercialism, of dollar-signs and sales and increase in domestic spending?  We may doubt that. Instead imagine that for the masses herded into the ‘door-buster’ sales by promises of great deals, the society drives toward a nominal holiday about the coming of the baby Jesus long ago, a first Coming without a Second?

It is difficult to find hope or faith in an event wholly past, but merely another miracle transformed into a bare memorial without promise, very much akin to what the sectarians have done with the Holy Communion. As a consequence the people will not prepare for an event they do not expect to occur, namely that other coming of the Christ, the one yet to occur.    


The themes of Advent are therefore preparation and penitence, involving self-examination both individually and corporately as the body of Christ. But keep in mind that the tone of Advent is not quite as somber as its liturgical sister, Lent. The Lenten season is a dying to the things of this world looking toward the Cross of Jesus, no baptisms, no partying, even a more staid liturgy, the surprise of the Resurrection lying just beyond. The Advent season is that time when we are to set our spiritual and worldly houses in order in the manner prescribed by the forerunner, St. John the Baptist as the church prepares to receive the Christ-child anew with a patient and expectant joy. For He who is to come again came beforehand. Advent hope therefore identifies with someone whom we know, and have known, and will know.

Advent begins with the second coming, reverts to St. John’s prophecies of the first coming, and concludes in that first coming, the birth of Jesus as announced to the blessed Virgin Mary. These are more than related notions. They are bound up with one another. This framework causes Advent participants to attend to the state of the people receiving the promise, to whom that promise is addressed. For the most part, these were not the middle class or ‘upper crust’ congregationalists of today. Nor are the elites in any way excluded, except by their own volition. Instead the initial hearers were the oppressed, the outcasts, the underclass tyrannized by the Romans and the Jewish rulers under the thumb of the Edomite Herod the Great and his sons.

Advent is about more than mere expectancy. It is about hope when confronted with hopelessness, the perennial confrontation of the pariahs and the misfits with the no-way-out position in which somehow they manage to get by, yet maintaining the hope of something better.  

If the reader doubts my words, then direct your attention to St. Luke’s Gospel, Chapter One and the Magnificat, the song of Mary to YHWH (vv. 46-55). “My Savior” was never intended to be a thanksgiving of the Blessed Virgin to God for granting a Messiah to forgive her ‘sins’. Mary’s song was her extolling of the fulfillment of a promise to the lowly that a Deliverer was to come, and that she was to bear that Messiah into this world and to nurture Him, the dream of every Jewish maiden. The Savior was to bring the promised kingdom of YHWH to rule upon this corrupted earth, to the end that each thought and activity would coincide with the Word and the will of His Father.

The Advent preparation is therefore spawned of and grounded in the expectation among the people of the God that something stupendous is going to happen, Christ’s coming again. It is the church’s annual dress rehearsal for the final act of history, while keeping one eye on Bethlehem. So we come to realize that “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

Well and good. However, hope, especially Advent hope, is bound up with prophecy. The prophetic content of the Advent season seems most often to be bound up with the events that it observes. But then what of prophecy in the meantime, or what we used to call ‘while you wait’? Prophecy in the meantime is best described in the terms that the twentieth century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr borrowed from a description of the newspaper’s function, “to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable”. We dare not neglect the latter function of the priesthood and of the faithful ‘in the meantime’ Sadly, and even during Advent, that function is set aside, observing mainly the bracketing events of the two comings.

“The One Who was, and Who is, and Who is to come…” We concentrate on the was and the is to come. But that One is, in the here and now, and calls for speech and action addressing the here-and-now. Yes, prophecy is the very essence of the Season of Advent.

May we live according to the sensible rhythms of the Christian year and of its sanctification of time, patterned upon the life of Christ, the mighty acts of God through Him, and of the One who is yet to come. So we will commend to others that which frames our lives with order, lending at the same time meaning and soundness of faith. And may the Creator keep each household safe, sound, and holy in His sight this Advent season.

Blessings in the Name of the One who is, and who was, and who is to come,

Father David+

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