Advent: The Beginning of an Event, the Invention of Something New, the Arrival of a Person
The Cambridge Dictionary defines the word advent as the beginning of an event or as the invention of something new or as the arrival of a person. Mark begins his gospel by announcing, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God….” In essence, Mark is telling us that his record of Jesus’ life is about an advent—it is the beginning of an event, the invention of something new, the arrival of a person.
The beginning of an event: The great event reported by Mark in his gospel is our salvation. Later in his gospel, Mark will record Jesus telling us that he came in order “to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). When Christian missionaries were translating the New Testament into the Huaorani language, they could not find a word for reconciled. But one day a translator was traveling through the Ecuadorian jungle with some Huaorani villagers, and they came to a narrow and deep ravine. The missionary thought they could go no further, but the Huaorani took out their machetes and cut down a large tree, causing it to fall across the ravine as a bridge which enabled them to cross safely. The translator, listening to the Huaorani discovered that they had a word for “tree across the ravine.” That word communicated effectively the meaning of what Christ did in reconciling us to God. The great event reported by Mark is that God came into our world in Jesus to lay down his life as the “tree across the ravine!”
The invention of something new: The “something new” that was invented/created/established by the arrival of Jesus is our adoption as God’s children. At the conclusion of his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “It is a change that goes off in a totally different direction—a change from being creatures of God to being sons [and daughters] of God…. It is not something arising out of the natural process of events but something coming into nature from outside” (p. 185).
Kenneth Tollefson describes an adoption ceremony in a Tlingit village some time ago, when a former slave was adopted by the chief: “At a prominent community meeting, the chief presented the female slave dressed in new clothes. Two large copper shields, symbols of wealth, were rubbed over her body to remove the stigma of slavery. The shields were then thrown into the depths of the Pacific Ocean. Thus, her former status was buried and forgotten. Any mention of it carried a large fine. She had been adopted into the chief’s family.”
Because of Christ’s arrival, something wonderfully new has been created: We have been adopted as God’s beloved children!
The arrival of a person: The person who arrived was nothing less than God-in-human-skin! The miracle of this reality should never be missed. John Shea expresses it beautifully in a piece of prose:
She was five, sure of the facts, and recited them in slow solemnity,
Convinced every word was revelation.
She said, “They were so poor they had only peanut butter sandwiches to eat,
And they went a long way from home without getting lost.
The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady.
They had to stay in a stable with an ox and an as (hee-hee),
But the Three Rich Men found them because a star lited the roof.
Shepherds came and you could pet the sheep but not feed them.
Then the baby was borned. And do you know who he was?”
Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars.
“The baby was God!”
And she jumped in the air, whirled round, dove into the sofa,
And buried her head under the cushion,
Which is the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation!
According to Mark, this fabulous beginning does not start on Christmas day but many centuries earlier. The arrival of Jesus is something God had been preparing and announcing throughout the history of his dealings with the descendants of Abraham and Moses. So Mark opens his report of the good news of Jesus by quoting the prophet Malachi (“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”) and the prophet Isaiah (“the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”). God had been looking ahead to the arrival of Jesus for so many earthly decades, and he could not keep his excitement contained. It splashed out repeatedly through the words of God’s prophets.