By Henriette Lokoto Okele
November 29, 2023
Dear brothers and sisters, in this time of our existence, when we face famine, disease, rumors of war, and the reality of war, only God is our support and in Him alone we place our trust!
As we approach the time of Advent, we recall that the word comes from the Latin “adventus” which means “arrival.” In the tradition of the Church, it marks a time in which we prepare for the celebration of Christmas. This year, Advent will start on Sunday, December 3, and end on Sunday, December 24. Note that this year the time is short. We will observe the fourth Sunday of Advent during the morning and the day, and in the evening Christmas Eve will be upon us.
Advent time is waiting time; we wait, we remember, and we anticipate.
This time is the expectation of the eschatological coming of Jesus, his return in the last days, as he himself teaches us in the holy scriptures (Matthew 25.31-46). It is not just about his first coming, it also about his coming (in Greek, the Parousia) as our Lord to consummate his reign over all creation. Thus the Church, like the ten virgins charged with their lamps, watches while waiting for the bridegroom to arrive and to enter with him into his Kingdom (Luke 25.1-13).
During the season of Advent, the Church remembers the incarnation of the Son of God in the days preceding the great feast of Christmas; we remember his bodily birth. Indeed, the gospel offered on the fourth Sunday tells us the story of the incarnation of Jesus Christ (Luke 1.26-38). It reminds us of the beautiful story of the annunciation made by the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary. Faced with this event, the Church rejoices in God’s decision to become man, to take on our flesh to save us. It is important to know why God became man. Saint Irenaeus says, “God became man, so that man might become similar to God.” Yes, the salvation brought by the Son of God consists in giving us back the image of God that we received at creation (Genesis 1.27), which is the very image of God. This image was tarnished by sin since the time of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3.6-7), but now begins the process of restoration through Jesus Christ.
The readings that our mother Church offers us for this Advent season invite us to watch and prepare ourselves to welcome the Messiah. In the first week, the Lord invites us to keep watch because we do not know when the master of the house will come (Mark 13.33-37); in the second week John the Baptist echoes the Prophet Isaiah as he proclaims to us, “Make straight the paths of the Lord” (Mark 1, 1-8); on the third Sunday, which we call “Laetare,” in Latin, the Sunday of joy, the Church experiences the joy of seeing the days of its redemption drawing near. Finally, on the fourth Sunday the gospel presents Mary to us, as a Mother who prepares clothing for her firstborn son, so the Church prepares to celebrate the birth of her Savior. She prepares the nativity scene, she prepares her faithful, and she beautifies her buildings so that Christmas is celebrated with joy!
As we prepare for Advent this year, I like to remember we are accompanied by three people: the prophet Isaiah, John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary. They remind us that the ways of God are not our ways, there is mystery in the world, there are times we do not fully understand until they are revealed at the right time. They also remind us to be unafraid and bold as we proclaim the coming of our Lord. And finally, they remind us to prepare our bodies so there is room for Jesus in our hearts and our minds.
Full of joy and gratitude in your love, we pray to you, Lord; grant us the grace to prepare ourselves for the approaching Christmas feast so that with your help we may be free and saved. We ask this through Jesus the Christ and our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Henriette Lokoto Okele is a Global Methodist Church pastor and presiding elder. She is based in Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.