What is Advent All About?

So, this is Advent.  The season of preparation for Christmas.  The season in which Christians prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth, God’s coming to earth in the Incarnation two thousand years ago.  It’s also the season in which Christians take time out to prepare more intensely for Jesus’ second coming, when He will return at the end of time to consummate all things.  And lastly, it’s the season in which Christians prepare our hearts more fully for His coming into our lives day by day, to be more open and attentive to His presence.

So, this is Advent.

One of the most popular Advent scripture passages comes from the beginning of Mark’s Gospel.  Mark starts his Gospel by describing Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, the one who prepares the way for Jesus.  In doing so, he quotes the prophet Isaiah, chapter 40:3, to describe John as the messenger who “prepares the way of the Lord” and “makes straight the way for our God.”

It’s funny, but one of the main things which causes people to distrust the Bible and be skeptical about Christianity is something we’ve heard a large number of scholars repeat over and over again: The earliest Gospels, like Mark—which is widely considered the earliest—don’t present Jesus as true God.  That only happens in the later Gospels, John in particular.  The earlier Gospels, including Mark, believe Jesus is only human.  They present Him as a fully human prophet, messiah, and savior.  Hearing this shakes many people’s faith, especially those who grew up in the Church learning that the Bible says Jesus is God incarnate.  

But here’s the thing: While this has been a common view of scholarship for over a hundred years, from the latter part of the nineteenth century through most of the twentieth, the scholarly consensus has completely changed.  Over the last twenty-five years the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction.  The modern consensus, which modern scholars claim should have been obvious to all those scholars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is that the earliest Gospels do clearly present Jesus as God Incarnate, including Mark.  They may express it differently than the later Gospels, like John, but no less clearly or explicitly.  The language scholars use to say this is that Mark has just as high and exalted a “Christology” as John.  In other words, Mark clearly believes Jesus is fully divine—God from God, light from light, true God from true God. 

And one of the passages scholars point to is this passage about John the Baptist.  In Isaiah 40, the messenger referred to by the prophet prepares the way of Yahweh—God.  This is the “Lord” he’s referring to.  By identifying this messenger as John the Baptist, Mark quite explicitly applies this divine attribution to Jesus.  He equates Jesus with Yahweh.  For Mark, Jesus is the fully divine Son of God the Father.  He is God in the flesh.

It comes as a surprise to most people, but over the past twenty-five years, much of what caused the scholars of previous generations to be skeptical of the Gospels has been completely upended.  In Gospel scholarship, the main reasons for doubting that God has come to us in Jesus have come crashing down.

So, this is Advent.

By my Sophomore year of college, I had decided I was going to be a high school math teacher.  So that fall semester I was taking some pretty high-level math courses: Calculus III, Linear Algebra, and Statistics.  Since math had been my favorite subject all along, I was very much looking forward to them.  But Linear Algebra and Statistics did me in!  They nearly caused me to flunk out of college.  I desperately wanted to understand them; they seemed so cool conceptually.  But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t grasp them to save my life! 

In the 80’s, at least at my school, it was unheard of to go to a professor for extra help.  It was seen as too desperate a move.  I had to go for extra help.  It was the only way I could (barely!) pass, with D minuses in both classes.  That and my professors were really nice and took pity on the only student desperate enough to go for extra help. 

I dreaded getting quizzes and tests back in those classes.  It would ruin my whole week. 

A year later, I fell in love for the first time.  It was a summer romance, and, in the fall, we went away to different schools.  I wouldn’t be able to see her until Thanksgiving.  It killed me.  I couldn’t wait.  Consumed with eager longing, it was all I thought about.  Driven by with fervent anticipation, I dreamed of the day.

So, this is Advent.

When we think about encountering God, whether at the end of time (or end of our lives) or in our daily lives, we usually think of it as a very unpleasant intrusion.  Like getting a test back in a math class we’re failing, we dread it.

But if we realized just how much God loves us, we wouldn’t dread it at all.  No, like anticipating seeing someone we passionately love after a long separation, we’d be filled with eager longing.  We’d yearn for the day, we’d constantly dream of the moment.  Like the Early Church, our unending prayer would be Maranatha, “Come, Lord, come”, fervently praying for Jesus’ imminent return, or, at least, to fill our hearts with more of His presence.

This is Advent.  The time to prepare for the coming of our Lord.

This is Advent.  The time to dream of the day when we will see Him face to face.

This is Advent.  The time to welcome the Living God into our hearts, to welcome the Lord of the Universe, the God of all creation who gave up all the privilege and prerogatives of divinity to become a helpless baby, live a life of humble service, and then do the ultimate, give His life, all for us.

Who wouldn’t want to welcome Him into our hearts and lives!

If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, I would love to hear it!  You can leave them on the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website.  I pray you have a blessed Advent preparing your heart for Him to pour out His love, peace, and joy into your life this Christmas. 

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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