Credit:Edwin Tan

The Latin word advent means arrival or moving toward something. Technically, it stands for the four weeks before Christmas. It is a time of preparation to celebrate the birthday of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Normally, Christians clean their homes, get rid of unwanted things, buy new clothes, mail greeting cards and presents to relatives and friends far away, cook, share and eat special food, distribute savouries among neighbours, whether Christian or not, and rejoice in being together.

Advent also refers to travels for family reunions, joyful celebration of the newly married couple. Christians light candles mounted on a wreath and remember virtues such as hope, peace, joy, love, repentance, and communion.

Each Sunday has special readings from the Bible: on successive Sundays, they remember God’s prophecy (Isaia 9 2–6), the birth of Jesus Christ (Mt 1:18 – 25), angelic declaration (Luke 2:8–20), and the arrival of the Magi themselves (Matthew 2:1 – 12).

As darkness befalls European countries much earlier during the winter months, Euro-American Christians switch on lights.

All these activities fulfil their socio-cultural aspects of human relationships; but they do not reveal the real significance of what advent means nowadays: the historical background for advent reaches back to God’s statement to Eve, the first woman.

After the failure of the first humans to obey God’s instruction, God foretold them of the troubles that they would face on earth.

There will be constant enmity between humans created in God’s image and the serpent, which symbolizes the wicked human inclination to sin against God and to rebel against what God considers good.

To end this enmity, God also promised to send the ‘seed’, which in Christian tradition refers to the Messiah (‘the Anointed One’), who would crush the head of the serpent and the serpent would bruise his heel (Gen. 3:15).

Since that time, God’s people have been waiting for the arrival (advent) of this saviour. With the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in the first three decades of the first millennium, the meaning of advent has shifted to Christ’s Second Coming (Revelation 22:7).

In the meantime, advent in the Christian calendar of events marks the preparation for great festival of Christmas (not merely the commemoration of the birth of Jesus as the baby in Bethlehem, but primarily the act of ‘sending out and going in the name of Christ’ to serve God and fellow human beings at the end of each worship service in a church) and for the greater festival of Easter.

This preparation happens among Christians who live in all countries, and represent almost all major languages, cultures, histories, human traditions of the world.

After all, Christianity remains the most pluralistic and most diverse way of thinking and living on our planet earth.

According to Todd Johnson’s Status of Global Christianity mid-2023, 2.483 billion Christians in 45,500 denominations making 32.5% of the current total population of the world maintain their faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the one Bible.

They entertain countless verities of Christian convictions, lifestyle variations, church organisations, and ministries.

Christians live in diverse contexts and express their faith convictions, historical memories, life choices, and future hopes in different ways.

Their mundane lifestyles, intellectual insights, spiritual and theological experiences enrich our perception of the Lord Jesus Christ.

These pluralistic orientations and appropriations of Advent move us towards celebrating Christmas more meaningfully.

We are part of a Global Family that lives in specific places and contextual circumstances. Yet, we are not the end of God’s salvation history.

Instead, we form a link in the long chain that connects us with the first human beings on the one end; on the other hand, this chain links us with the saints of all times, who will meet the Lord Jesus Christ either during his promised Second Coming or when our own life ends on this planet.

In the meantime, as we live, let us wish each other a Happy Advent and prepare ourselves to meet the Lord Jesus Christ!

Prof. Dr. Daniel Jeyaraj is an accomplished church historian and currently serves as the Academic Dean at Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.