Advent: A Season for Penitence

Last week I wrote about what should be our first concern for Advent, understanding how desperate our situation is without Christ. That understanding is crucial for truly meaningful joy and celebration at Christmas—but the Christmas season has not yet arrived, and the more we think about it the more we should become aware of how small we are compared to God, and how pitifully we fall short when measured against his righteous standard for us. In short, as the season celebrating God’s “advent” (his “coming”) waxes on, and the season celebrating his incarnation approaches, we should become increasingly mindful of how unfit we are for his visit, just as (or, rather, just-as-only-more-so-than) we would for the (announced or unannounced) visit of some Very Important Person to our cluttered, neglected hovel.

Now, as I tried to point out last week, in and of our own power we are utterly incapable of improving this situation, so our preparations are at best along the same lines as (as Lewis put it) asking our father to lend us sixpence to buy him a Christmas present. But that does not excuse us from making the attempt, and the same word from which we learn of our dismal situation also assures us that the power which raised Christ from the dead is at work within us, to accomplish what we cannot, so that when we stand before his judgment we shall be ready.

However, as we are not ready yet, the proper attitude—emphasized in this season of preparation as rejoicing is emphasized in Christmastide–is one of penitence and humility. Until God has exalted us, we ought to consider ourselves to be as nothing—for, except for the position and share he has given us in Christ, we are—and seek to turn ever further away from our unrighteous (and imperfectly-righteous) ways and ever further and more perfectly toward the way of which Christ was the pioneer.

In short, perhaps, Advent is a reminder to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling,” for

Behold, the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple—even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in. And who may abide the day of his coming, and who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner’s fire …

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