Rev John Henderson

Bishop Lutheran Church of Australia

‘From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”’ (Matthew 4:17 NRSV).

The four weeks before Christmas are the Advent season. Advent is, in effect, the Christian new year, the first season of the church calendar. This year it began on Sunday 28 November, when we changed the church colour to violet, for repentance and to honour our coming king.

I wonder how many of us noticed. Did we share it with others? Our Hindu neighbours visited us during the recent Diwali festival, or Hindu New Year, with a gift of homemade Indian sweets. It was a lovely, neighbourly gesture. The Christian new year, Advent, however, is not so well-known, even among us. It tends to be swamped by Christmas, which has crept forward to whenever the merchandise hits the shelves or the online shopping site. Advent, however, gives Christmas its context. Together, Advent and Christmas direct us to the great festival of Easter, preceded by Lent and followed by Ascension and Pentecost. This rhythm of festivals, drawn from Scripture, is the backbone of our worship and faith life. In this way, we always remember and celebrate what God has done and is doing to save the world.

Advent comes first. It is the backdrop, the scene-setter, that puts the rest into perspective. Taken from Latin, ‘Advent’ means ‘arrival’. God arrives on earth in tangible, specific ways. Our God is not just a remote eternal being, somewhere ‘out there’ beyond the universe and therefore impossible to find. Rather, God is with us, right here, right now, physically and spiritually. God chooses to be available to all who believe and is never far away.

Look at the evidence: his mother bore him, people physically touched him, and he touched them. They penetrated his hands and feet with nails. Even in his death, they touched him, laid his body in the grave, and mourned him. And when he rose from the dead, they ate with him and knew him as a living human being. He ascended into heaven, God our brother going ahead of us to welcome us home. And for now, here on earth, God is present in his church, the physical gathering of baptised saints and believers who hear the word and receive the sacrament.

In Advent we remember that God, who has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, is always with us. He restores our life. We are alive in him. He comes to us daily through the Spirit and the word. He comes in the sacraments, in water and the word (baptism), in the meal of bread and wine he instituted for us (holy communion). God comes to us, the same God who also waits for us on the last day. We know him now, and he knows us.

In Advent we learn to wait – and wait well – for the coming of our Lord. We do so in humility and with repentance, since salvation depends entirely on him and we contribute nothing. We remain confident and we are not afraid, since, as Hebrews says, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever’. He is, and will always be, our Saviour, who came to live among us and never leave us. All glory be to God.


This edition of The Lutheran marks my last Heartland column during my time as bishop. It has been a pleasure and a joy to prepare these articles. I express my thanks to Lisa McIntosh, Pastor David Strelan and the LCA Communications team for your encouragement and support in making this possible. I also thank the many readers who have written in over the years, sharing your own stories of faith. Thank you all so much. I pray that our great and merciful God will continue to bless and restore every one of you, until the great and glorious day of the resurrection to eternal life.

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