“Happy New Year!” – Of course, regarding the calendar year we have to wait until the 1st of January, but that is different with the church year.  The liturgical year begins traditionally with the first Sunday of Advent. A new beginning is always something promising. It is an invitation to leave the beaten track with all its mistakes behind and to start with a clean slate.  That is especially the case with the Advent season.  The Latin “adventus” means “arrival”.  As a term for the liturgical season, it is related to the coming of Jesus. People often understand this as referring to an event of the past, when Jesus arrived on this earth as the child of Bethlehem.  And, of course, in the season of Advent we are busy with the preparations for Christmas.  But the term “Advent” also refers to the present reception of Christ in the heart of the believer as a personal arrival of Christ and to his future Second Coming as the judge of the world.  In this sense, the Advent season is the time when we prepare ourselves for his coming that he will find us ready.

Therefore, a classical Advent text is the account of John the Baptist’s appearance in the dessert and his call for repentance: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2)  Jesus adopts this message when he begins his public ministry with the call: “‘The time has come, the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:15).
Jesus’ appearance marks the end of the time and the world we know.  Through his death and resurrection, he has opened a way out of the darkness into the light of the new heaven and the new earth.  And he will come back to take the believers with him to his father.  But how do we notice his coming?  Perhaps he is already here, and we have failed to see him!  That is why the Advent season is traditionally a fasting period.  When we reduce the things we consume in this dark season of the year, we may become more sensitive to the things that are around us.  That can help us to identify Jesus.

“The Light of the World” is a famous painting by the English artist William Holman Hunt (1827-1910).  The original version can be seen in the side chapel at Keble College, Oxford.  A copy that was painted by him toward the end of his life hangs in St Paul’s Cathedral. The painting shows Jesus knocking on an overgrown door. This refers to Revelation 3:20: “I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”  The door symbolises the human heart. There is no handle, it can only be opened from the inside.  The weed on the door suggests that this door has not been used for a long time.  But the light of dawn heralds the end of the night and the beginning of the new day.

This is the situation of Advent.  The time has come. Jesus has come. He knocks at the door of our heart.  Do we hear him?  Do we let him in?  Do we receive him in his “Advent”?  That would change everything.  For Jesus is not just a normal guest.  The crown shows that he as the king of the cross is the son of God.  The father has given everything to him: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive
him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”  (John 1:11-12)

Our heartbeat can remind us of Jesus’ knocking.  Normally we are not aware of our heartbeat, only if we attentively focus on it, we recognise the activity that keeps us alive.  And could it not be that in every heartbeat Jesus knocks at our heart?  Do we still sleep, following the accustomed routine where new things quickly become old?  Or do we open ourselves for the end of everything we know and the start of the new day that is without end: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)