Advent – Preparing for Christ to Come

This lesson was taught on Saturday evening, November 23, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.


What does “Advent” mean? The word “Advent” itself came from Latin. It comes from advenire, and what does venire mean in Latin? It means that someone is coming. Tomorrow we’ll sing the Psalm Venite. Venite means “coming” in Latin. So Advent means that we are preparing for somebody coming.

And for us, in this part of the world we can usually know that by the change in the weather. The temperature gets lower, the nights get longer, and if you listen to the hymns that we sing during Advent–especially at Vespers and sometimes at Matins–you hear that. You hear it talking about the long nights and the cold nights, too. Even though Jesus was born in a climate where–it can get cold in the middle east but it’s not quite the same thing here–For people who were in Europe and north, which is where many of the customs that we have during Advent developed, this was the kind of daylight and climate they were used to, the kind of cold. And so they associated this with Jesus’ coming into a cold and dark world that was cut off from God because of sin. In these long dark nights they celebrated the Nativity, the Christ-mass, the midnight mass as the coming of light into a darkened world.

Listen to the hymns as we go through Advent. You’ll hear that. You’ll see the vestments will change next week from green to purple. And purple in the Orthodox Church usually means penetence, repentence, the time for taking about our sins, confessing our sins. And for those of you who wish, I’ll stay tonight and do confessions, for anybody who wants that. I’ll even do it in the morning if you get here early enough.

So the vestments are going to change.We are going to drop a couple of things out of the service. We are not going to sing the “Glory be to God on high” from next Sunday until the first mass of Christmas on Christmas eve, because that’s a hymn that is a celebratory hymn. And we are going into a time where like I said we think more about our sins, and repentance, and confessing our sins.

There are three major themes that go along with Advent: Jesus is coming, the end of the world, and the judgment (our judgment at the time of our death). So, all of those are sober things. They are not happy, bouncing up and down things. They are sober things that we think about, and prepare  ourselves for the coming of the Savior this Christmas by praying and fasting. And the fast days in Advent are Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those are days of fast and abstinence. . . .

What is abstinence?
You abstain from certain types of food.

What is fasting?
You eat less.

Now, you can have some days of abstinence that are not fast days. Every Friday out of the year, in the Western tradition, is a day of abstinence. We abstain from flesh meat. You never have a fast day, however, that is not also a day of abstinence.

So on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, starting the Monday after next Sunday, in other words, a week from this Monday. For adults, anyway–healthy adults–you do not eat any meat, meat products, meat juices, nothing that is beef, pork, chicken, or anything like that, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

You also–I said this is for healthy adults; children sometimes have to adjust–have one full meal a day and maybe a small one. That’s it. And if possible, you don’t take anything prior to noon. Now, like I said, I can’t do that because I am a diabetic. And if I did that I’ll go down like a full axed cow, so I have to have a little bit of something with insulin in the morning. But normally, if at all possible, you don’t eat anything before noon. So, one full meal–whenever you want to do that, that is up to you–and a small little snacky kind of thing, you know, maybe at night or something like that. So, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, that’s what you’re going to do. Cut it down. No meat of any kind (you can have fish). Ok, so we’ve got fasting and we’ve got abstinence.

We’ve got a very famous hymn that’s sung during Advent. Some of the most beautiful hymns in the western tradition are for Advent and for Christmas. Today in our hymnal, hymn 34, this is the famous hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Remember that in Latin it would be “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel”. That’s what the word “venir” means, “come”, “advenire” . . .

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Who is Emmanuel? God. Emmanuel means “God with us”. Ok? So that’s Who it’s talking about. When it says, “O come, O come, Emmanuel”, it’s talking about Jesus. It’s talking about the incarnate Word of God.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”

What is the captive Israel? Well, it is the whole world. I mean, this is the captive Israel. It’s not the new Israel yet. So Jesus comes into this world to ransom all of us who are not in communion with God, who “mourn in lonely exile here.” Remember, the idea is that Jesus is coming into this darkened world, this sinful world, which has been in exile like Adam and Eve were in exile from paradise since the time of the fall.

“that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appears.”

So what is born at Nativity is our Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, the Son of God, who is going to become–not just the Son of God, but the Son of who?–the Son of the Virgin Mary. He is going to be the son of God, but also the son of Mary. Therefore, He is going to be a unique individual, not one before, not going to be one after, only one God-man, and that’s Jesus Christ.

Okay, verse two:

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

There’s an entire book in the Old Testament called the book of Wisdom. And the wisdom which is talked about in Scripture is regarded very often as the presence and work of the Holy Spirit of God. Now, the Incarnation could not happen without the work of the Holy Spirit of God. It was the work of the Holy Spirit that placed Jesus in Mary’s womb so that He could be conceived as a human being, so that He could grow in her womb as a human being, so that He could be born as a human being just like every single one of you was.

Once Jesus is conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit, everything that happens to Him is what happens to every human being, so that He can experience everything from our conception, to our death. . . . Everything that happens to you and me, He participates in, except of course for sin.

Verse three:

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Adonai is one of the names of God in the Old Testament, that the Hebrews use. So, this reminds you that what is going on when Jesus is born and we celebrate Christmas, began centuries and centuries before with the creation of the world, with the calling of the people of Israel to be faithful to Him, with His relationship with Him, all of this is just a continuation. It’s not something that God decided to do and then say, “Well, you know, let’s do something different. You know, let’s pick a dark night in the winter in northern Europe, so that people will have to walk to church through the snow.” What happens, in terms of God’s will for us, is always a continuation of the same story, God trying to save people and to bring people closer into relationship with Him, that is Adonai.


O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

This reminds us why Jesus was born. Why was Jesus born? To save sinners, and to trample down death by death.Yes, precisely, Jesus was born to die. Like I said, if He is conceived in Mary’s womb and grows in there just like you did, if He is born from her womb just as you were (and it is Orthodox teaching that Mary’s birth was a normal human birth), if He lived His entire life in the world like you and I live, and then He comes to the end of His life and faces what we all face–which is death–now, if He bailed out at that point, if He had said, “Ok, this has been fun, folks, but I’m going back,” He would not have shared all of our life with us. And if He didn’t share all of our life with us, He can’t save all of our life with us, and we would not be reunited with God.

Okay, next verse:

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The Clavis David–the Key of David–was a way in which medieval Christians referred to Jesus as being the one who would continue on in the family line of King David. He is still coming, trying to gather His own people back to Him, but will also open the boundaries of His people beyond just the Jews, to anybody who comes and receives Christ as Savior.

Number six:

O come, Thou Day-Spring from on high
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

In the Scripture of the New Testament, Jesus is referred to as the “Day-Spring,” in other words, the beginning of the day, the beginning of the light, the beginning of the dawn, and you know again carries through whatever we talked about, clouds of night, dark shadows put to flight. The light is coming into the world to enlighten it, and to save us with that light.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

We sing on Christmas night, a lot. We sing and chant, “Glory be to God on high, peace, good will to men.” Now, in fact, in the original Greek, that’s not peace to all men, that’s peace to those men who respond to the presence of Christ in their midst. But for those who respond to Him, they’re supposed to be drawn together in one. Hence, “bid our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our king of peace.” It’s also a plea for that kind of unity and calm within the creation that God has made.

Last one:

O virgin pure of virgin maids
Like none other, how can this be?
O daughters of Jerusalem,
Why marvel at this mystery?
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Remember we talked before about how Mary, as a young child, perhaps around age five, was taken by her parents–who were elderly and would not probably live long enough to raise her–to live in the temple in Jerusalem. But that was not a unique thing. There were many young girls who were being raised in the temple confines. These were the “daughters of Jerusalem” that are being referred to. And all of them, having lived and learned with Mary, probably stand there going,“What? She claims what? Naa, naa, naa, that’s not going on. We lived with this kid. She can’t be the mother of God.” The daughters of Jerusalem stand there in wonder.

During the stations of the cross, if we look back to Lent, one of the stations (and I must admit I can’t remember which one), Jesus actually addresses the daughters of Jerusalem, “If they will do these things in a green tree, what will they do in a dry?” The daughters of Jerusalem were the young women who had grown up with Mary, and still themselves couldn’t believe what they heard was actually happening at the Nativity.

Now it’s a lovely hymn. We don’t use instruments during Advent, so there will be no organ or piano, but you seem to sing it reasonably well. I suggest you sing it every Sunday, somewhere along the line, for some reason. Also, the verses here are the antiphons–if you take them in reverse order–are the antiphons of the Magnificat, chanted before and after the Magnificat the last eighteen days of Advent. So, at least on the last two Sundays, you chant these as the antiphons with the Magnificat, and that would end therefore with, “O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel.”

This hymn was put together, from many sources, by the time of the ninth century. Interestingly enough, my wife you may remember is Greek, and after we were married I came across a recording she had that had been done by the Holy Cross Choir, at Holy Cross, which is the Greek seminary up in Brookline, Mass. And I just put it on to hear some stuff, and I heard this very familiar melody of something being sung in Greek. And I thought, “I know that. What is that?” It was “O come, O come Emmanuel”, in Greek, sung by the choir of the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary, as an Orthodox hymn, as an example of Orthodox hymnography. So if any Greeks give you grief about it, just tell them to get the record.

Okay, there is also another lovely–I’ll just point it out to you–hymn which is done at vespers, Creator of the Stars of Night. Yeah, here it is, 429:

Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
O Jesu, savior of us all,
Regard Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving at the bitter cry
of all creation doomed to die
Did’st come to save our ruined race
With healing gifts of heavenly grace.

Thou cam’st, the Bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to evening-tide;
Proceeding from a virgin shrine,
The Son of Man, the Lord divine.

At Thy great Name, exalted now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
And things in heaven and earth shall own,
That Thou art Lord and King alone.

To Thee, O holy One we pray,
Our Judge in that tremendous day,
Preserve us while we dwell below,
From every onslaught of the foe.

All praise, eternal Son, to Thee,
Whose Advent sets Thy people free,
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Spirit blessed forevermore. 


That is also sung at Vespers in Advent, just before the Magnificat. So do that every time you come together at Vespers.

Okay, I’ll be here if any of you want to come to confession, and we will see you in the morning. God Bless.


This lesson was taught on Saturday evening, November 23, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Fr. Michael Keiser.



About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
Video | This entry was posted in Christmas, Fasting, Fr. Michael Keiser. Bookmark the permalink.

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