My kids are always very interested in when Advent begins. As a pastor, I’d like to think it’s because they have a profound awareness of their sins and they’ve been longing for this penitential season. And while they have shown some theological interest in the season, the reality is much more mundane: they have Advent calendars, and they can’t wait to start opening them up.
The problem with these so-called “Advent” calendars is they always begin on December 1st. I guess that’s close enough for the secular companies that make these things, but if they wanted to make a theologically accurate Advent calendar, this year, it would have begun this past Sunday, November 27th.
You may know that Advent starts on a different date each year. What you may not know is that the start date of Advent is determined in relation to the festival we celebrate tonight, the festival of St. Andrew, which is always observed on November 30th. The Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s festival is always the first Sunday in Advent.
At first, it might seem odd to connect Advent to St. Andrew. After all, St. Andrew is known as an apostle, and, according to our hymn, was the first to respond to our Lord’s call. Because of this, we also know Andrew as an evangelist. A fisherman by trade, our Lord told Peter and Andrew that he would make them “fishers of men.”
And fish they did. Andrew’s first introduction to Jesus was through the preaching of John the Baptist, who pointed to our Lord and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The first thing Andrew did was run home, fish for his brother Peter, and bring him to Jesus. Because of this, Andrew is often considered the first “home missionary.” He recognized the importance of telling those closest to him about Jesus and introducing them to Him.[i]
Later on, there were some Greeks at the Passover who wished to see Jesus. They first approached Philip, who then went and told Andrew, who then went, together, to tell Jesus. This account has also earned Andrew the distinction of being the first foreign missionary, as he recognized the need to fish for those from foreign lands—in this case, the Greeks.
It is entirely appropriate, then, that the beginning of Advent is determined in relation to the festival of St. Andrew, the apostle and evangelist. Let’s unpack that for a second.
Advent, of course, means “coming,” and it is a season all about the coming of Christ. We speak of three Advents of our Lord: His first Advent, or His incarnation; His Second Advent, or His coming on the Last Day to Judge the Living and the Dead; and His continual Advent, or His coming to us, even now, in His Holy Word and Sacraments.
Our Lord’s continual Advent among us is precisely the concern and main point of the festival of St. Andrew. After all, Andrew wasn’t running around introducing people to himself, nor was he simply telling people about Jesus. He was introducing them to Jesus. And the way he did that is the same way we still introduce people to Jesus today: through the proclamation of His Word.
Evangelism, or the preaching of the Gospel, is nothing other than the means by which Christ continues to Advent Himself among us today. Our epistle laid this out plainly: faith comes by hearing. Salvation unto us has come, and it comes to us in the preaching of the Gospel. We also know that only Christ can save.
So how can faith come by hearing if it’s a gift that only Jesus gives? Because it’s a gift that He Himself gives through the preaching of His Word. If Jesus weren’t present in His Word, preaching would be useless. The Word of God is powerful because Jesus is the Word of God.
All too easily do we forget that Christ is present with us in His Word, that His Word is the means by which He Advents Himself among us. We hear the accounts of our Lord’s earthly ministry, His miracles and healing activity, and we think if only Jesus were with us today, then things would be better.
This is to forget not only that Christ is present with us in His Word, it’s also to forget that the way of Christ is the way of the cross. Death and resurrection is the pattern for our lives, too. The comfort we have as we walk through the valley of the death shadow is the presence of Christ in His Word. And in His Holy Word we find everything we need for our faith, our comfort, and our salvation, because there we find Jesus.
Andrew didn’t just tell people about Jesus; he brought Jesus to them, and He did it through the preaching of His Word. In the Collect for Advent 1, we pray: Stir up Your power, or Lord, and come. The answer to that prayer is found in His Word.
The same Christ who was born in the manger, called Andrew, suffered and died on the cross, rose three days later, and who will come again on the Last Day is with you today and every day through His Word. The Lord keep you steadfast in His Word.
Soli Deo Gloria
[i] Weedon, Celebrating the Saints, loc. 3877.