Advent is a period of anticipation of – of looking forward to – the coming of Christmas. Christmas in turn celebrates the birth of the Christ Child, Jesus.
‘Christ’ means christened as King, and this is why the Magi are depicted as kneeling before the Christ Child – literally, the King Child. They were kneeling before a new king, and this king had been anticipated in Jewish society for some time. Presumably, the Magi were from somewhere like Babylon, and so were familiar with Jewish prophecies regarding the coming of a new king. Yet, Jesus’ kingdom was spiritual, and so he is a spiritual king, as he made clear to Pontius Pilate (‘My kingdom is not of this world’, as in, not a kingdom regarding worldly things, but spiritual ones – we might say ‘metapolitical’).
Yet the celebration of Christmas can be thought of not only as historical, but present-tense. This is because Christians are all christened as spiritual kings. Jesus is the King of Kings, and the latter Kings are … us! We have both power and responsibility as spiritual kings or queens.
In this sense, Advent is not only anticipating the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but also anticipating the spiritual birth of God within ourselves – perhaps most obviously with baptism, both water baptism but also with baptism by the Holy Spirit. In the latter case, God is in a sense born in us, and so we become ‘born again of the spirit’ – born again with a new identity as kings. Jesus was born the Christ, and we are born again as christs.
So just as Jesus the Christ was born in a manger, so we are born as christs through various spiritual experiences, most dramatically baptism by the Holy Spirit but really occurring whenever we turn towards God and let him into our hearts. In a sense, we are all kings to begin with, but separate ourselves from God, only to return as the prodigal son did.
So Advent is a period of anticipation of and focus on preparation for the spiritual breakthroughs in our own lives – of the coming of God in ourselves. Just as Jesus wasn’t born in the busy inn, but in a quiet manger – perhaps a converted shepherd’s cave – so God typically incarnates in us when we remove ourselves from the busy-ness of day to day life, quiet our minds, and turn our attention back to God.