The Invention of Advent
~ by Dr. Christopher A. Perrin ~
We are in the season of Advent, a time of waiting and anticipation. The word advent, of course, is rooted in Latin. Consider these related English words: adventure, venture, invent, inventor, convent, convene, convention, prevent, prevention, circumvent.
Obviously, the common root is “vent.” Now, there is a Latin noun ventus (wind) that is the root for our word vent—as in a vent that disperses cold or hot air. In the list above, however, the “vent” we see is derived from venio, venire, a verb that means “to come.” If we affix some common Latin prefixes to venio, we get nifty compound verbs such as advenire (to come to); invenire (to come upon, find); circumvenire (to come around, to surround); convenire (to come with, meet, assemble); and praevenire (to come before, anticipate, prevent).
As so often happens, one useful Latin verb gives rise to several related ones—“daughter” verbs that all resemble their mother. And from this family of Latin verbs are derived just as many English verbs (and their related nouns).
Now we can see Advent as the church has seen it for centuries: an anticipation and a coming of a King. You can imagine how you might prepare if you were told Queen Elizabeth would be visiting your home. During Advent, we prepare. The church came to see Advent not only as a preparation for celebrating the coming of Christ at his birth, but also as a preparation for his coming again. It even became a time of remembering Israel’s longing for the coming Messiah as promised by the prophets. Thus, by the twelfth century, Christians were singing:
Veni, veni, Emmanuel;
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui genit exilio
Privatus Dei Filio
Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te, Israel!
Come, come, Emmanuel;
Free captive Israel,
Who mourns in exile,
Deprived of the Son of God
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Is born for thee, Israel!
During Advent, we look back and remember our ancestors’ longing for the coming; we look back to that coming in the Incarnation of Christ and we celebrate; and we come to him like the Magi, bearing our gifts to him and, in celebration, to one another. We also look with longing to his coming again—the Second Advent.
The entire engagement of Advent turns our gaze backward, forward, and upward to the One who is the Gift of mankind, the ultimate cause of rejoicing—the coming of a King and a Savior, the One bringing us out of captivity to become a free people, free from bondage, free from sin.
So it was Christ who invented Advent. Our Savior ventured forth, condescending to become man, that we might be redeemed. He calls us to come to him that we may find rest; he convenes us as people, his people; then he calls us to watch, wait, and be ready for when he comes again.
Advent turns out to be quite the adventure.