Setting the Tone for Advent
The first Sunday of Advent sets the tone for the season by looking forward to the second coming of Jesus Christ. Through the Scripture passages read and the spiritual practices observed, Christians are called to re-orient themselves to a mindset of watching and waiting for Christ’s return, while at the same time evaluating their lives on the basis of Christ’s first coming.
The Scripture and Theology of the First Week of Advent
While there are many traditions and festivities tied to the Advent season, the theological center is found in the Scripture readings read during each of the four Advent Sundays. The theology of Advent is rich with significance.
Old Testament Readings
Readings from the Old Testament during Advent I ground the entire season in the story of Israel’s expectation of the coming Messiah. Isaiah 2:1–5, in one of the most beautiful and profound images in the Old Testament, looks forward to the one who will come in peace-bringing judgment:
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)
This prophecy looks forward both to the Incarnation and the second coming of Jesus.
Isaiah 64:1–9 asks God to “rend the heavens and come down” (64:1), bringing his holy presence to earth. This coming, according to Jeremiah 33:14–16, is a fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel. The one who is coming—one who is a Branch of David, an Israelite—will bring justice and righteousness: “In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (33:15). This “Branch” imagery is adopted into a significant spiritual practice associated with Advent.
Readings from the Psalms
During Advent I, readings from the Psalms cry out to God for him to act on his people’s behalf as he has in the past, bringing final peace and restoration to the earth. Psalm 122 asks for peace to come upon the city of God in a new reign of righteousness on the earth, Psalm 80 requests God’s restoration of his people (80:3, 19), and Psalm 25:1–9 recalls God’s covenantal steadfast love and mercy, which were present from days past, and beckons God once again to remember his covenant and act faithfully on behalf of his people.
New Testament Readings
Scripture readings from the New Testament letters during Advent I bring to mind the church’s life between the ascension of Christ and his return for his people. In 1 Corinthians 1:3–9, Paul speaks of the church as waiting for the second coming of Christ, continually sustained by God’s faithful provision. Romans 13:11–14 and 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13, on the other hand, urge the church to pursue holiness eagerly. Because, as Romans 13:12–14 says, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand,” Christians are to “cast off the works of darkness” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 3:9–13 suggests that the motive for increasing and abounding in love for one another is so that Christians can walk in blamelessness and holiness before God in preparation for Christ’s return.