It was the first Italian word I learnt on Italian soil from Italian lips. Up until then I had studied Italian from a book. I had just moved into Via Cassio Parmense with Adriana of the Crazy Hair. The doorbell rang on the first day I was there and she sang out loudly, ‘Arrivo!’ – I’m coming, I’m on my way. The English ‘arrive’ isn’t quite the same thing. Adriana could yell really well, evidence of optimum lung capacity. I am thoroughly certain whoever was waiting on the other side of the extremely thick and solid, well-made, fortified Italian door heard her clear as a bell.
Last Sunday marked the start of Advent, the time of anticipation and waiting for the celebration of the birth of Christ – observed largely by the Western Church. Advent is from the Latin adventus – meaning ‘coming’, much like Adriana’s arrivo. In Roman times the adventus was the ceremony of welcoming a triumphant emperor into a city. Adventus is the Latin translation of the Greek word parousia – you might have heard that before. Parousia is all about… well, I’ll get to that.
Exactly a year ago, we were also awaiting the arrival of not exactly an emperor (although I am led to believe he has his royal moments), but of a little baby boy far, far away. My sister was counting off her final days of pregnancy as my mom and brother flew over to visit her for two months. Tiny, adorable, beautiful – my nephew arrived a couple of weeks later, just two days after Christmas. A precious gift of joy to us.
And now, we wait again – this time for my sister’s little family to make the long journey of a day’s constant travel by plane to reach our sunny shores. Just in time for Christmas and just in time for the cutest nephew in the world’s first birthday. The anticipation is enormous. I am so excited, I could probably go into orbit with giddy glee. I haven’t seen my sister for two years, and I have yet to hold that little boy and plant a kiss on his beautiful little head.
Over two thousand years ago, another young, expectant mother similarly travelled to visit a relative, who was also expectant, but not so young. The Message paints the passage in Luke 1:39-45 like this:
“Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and travelled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,
You’re so blessed among women,
and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
believed every word would come true!”
Even while yet unborn, unseen, Christ stirred the spirits and listening hearts of those waiting for him. Those who were expectant. And we know that he is coming again. This is parousia – the second coming. And Advent is intended to remind us of his return. Advent has made me wonder – am I delighted about the prospect of his arrival? Am I all organised for his appearance? As I make mental lists of all the fun things to do with my sister, I ponder Christ’s return and its implications. As I contemplate how to baby-proof my home in anticipation of an impending visit from a curious, crawling little person, I ask myself if my King will find me ready?
And what will it be like (one of my favourite songs, sung by Mercy Me, is all about this – see the Youtube video a little further down)? When the One who knows me better than I know myself is finally here? Like the nephew I’ve never touched or held, will love overwhelm me when my Saviour and my Lord is before me at last? What will I do? What will I say? I don’t know. But I do know he is coming again. Adventus. Parousia.