Yesterday I mentioned East Germany in a post, and I think Christ’s Second Advent is a little the falling of the Berlin wall. In the film “The Lives of Others” (2006) set during the fall of the Soviet-controlled government of East Germany, there is a beautiful moment when a group of secret police hear on the radio that the wall has come down. They are busy at work opening people’s mail and spying. As the realization comes upon them in this basement, one of the men gets up from his seat and walks out the door, never to return again. He’s understood that it’s all over. The total control that the government claimed it had, their ultimate power gone. After the first man leaves, the others slowly get up and follow him. The news has reached them of another order, another power, another way of life, the old is gone, the new came.
Not to say the fall of the Berlin wall was messianic or without problems, but there are some appearings, some revelations that people can receive that utterly shake up their lives. Events occur, figures walk through the door of history, and nothing is ever the same again. I’d like to use this in explaining more about Advent.
Words and words and words and words…
What is the definition of Advent?
Advent is a strange word to most of us, as we rarely use it in conversation. In Latin, it was adventus which meant “coming”, and broken down even further it is a combination of ad (to), and the verb venio (to come). Adventus is also a translation of the Greek original: parousia. Parousia can be signify an official arrival, like a state visit of a dignitary, or an appearance, or even a presence. N.T. Wright in his book “Surprised by Hope” discusses the word and how it relates to Christ, by saying that we ought to imagine two realities overlain atop one another. Think of a curtain in a stage play that is swept away to reveal the scene behind. In the same way, God who is Spirit (Jn 4:24), and Christians believe that he is behind everything.
Perhaps it is thus best to think of Advent as not so much an episode of Christ coming to us, but of us ‘coming to’ (in the colloquial sense). Of us coming to the reality that lays hidden behind our mistaken assumptions and perennial materialism. Understanding that Christ who was and is, and is to come (Rev. 1:8), still reigns in Heaven, and descends on his altars, just as through Him the world was made (Jn 1:3). In the Latin West, the Church has always linked both of Christ’s Historic Advents, his first and his second coming. In the Apocalypse of St. John the Divine, the apostle describes the scene of Christ’s second coming by saying:
“he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.” (Rev. 1:7)
John links these two eschatological moments together: the world crucifying Christ, and the world wailing when he returns. Yet for a friend of Christ like John, he can say “even so, amen”. Amen means: so let it be.
The spirit and spiritual disciplines of Advent, can be practiced daily, when we look into our messy lives, think upon Christ’s return, and say: even so, Amen. When we realize our own cruel dictatorships and our false claims of complete control and power in our lives, we can let our defenses down, look to Christ and say maranatha, come Lord quickly. C.S. Lewis once summarized Blessed Cardinal Newman’s maxim that the problem with humanity is not merely that we are in need of a king, but that we are rebels who must first lay down our arms. We’ve made ourselves the rulers, and taken up arms against the true ruler of all. The problem is not that this merely offends God as it would a jealous tyrant, but that it is not true. The reality will betray us, and eventually an advent, an appearing, will occur to us, and we will ‘come to’, and see that fallen are all the comforting lies we tell ourselves. Christ is king, and he shall return.
Even so. Amen.