The Bible ends with a small Advent liturgy. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” All who hear echo the prayer and say, “Come.” Jesus assures his people, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” The response to that assurance is another prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus.” Maranatha—an Aramaic word meaning “Come, Lord”—is the last of the Spirit’s prayers, harmonized by the Bride. Scripture leaves us eager for the Lord’s arrival.
Advent is also the Bible’s first word. As soon as Adam and Eve are cast from Eden, they begin longing for the promised Seed of the woman who will be sent to crush the serpent’s head and readmit them to the garden. Advent is the Alpha and Omega hope of Scripture, humanity’s first and last prayer.
Revelation’s Advent liturgy is a dialogue of lovers that sums up the tangled story of Yahweh and Israel. Yahweh the Bridegroom comes to his Bride, rescues her from Egypt, weds her at Sinai, adorns her with the treasure of nations, conquers a land for her. But Israel keeps turning to the gods of the nations. At times, the Bridegroom withdraws, but he always comes back. In the end, he comes in person, but the leaders of Israel—friends of the Bridegroom who are supposed to guard the Bride—clamor for his crucifixion. But love is stronger than death. From the grave, the Bridegroom, a relentless Lover, hears the prayer of the Spirit and the Bride and returns.
Throughout the story, the Spirit who is the Passion of God speaks through the law and prophets, calling the Bride back to her Husband. Over time, she learns that her bliss depends entirely on the coming of the Bridegroom. Yahweh does come. He comes to Sinai, his glory dwells above the wings of the cherubim, he comes to Abraham and to Moses, to David and the prophets.
But it’s never enough. On Sinai, he’s covered by a thick cloud; in the temple, he’s wrapped in curtains and veils; in the wilderness, he’s screened off by a faceless sky. With increasing desperation, Israel pleads, “Rend the curtain and come out!” and “Rend the heavens and come down.” She’s filled with the yearning of the Spirit, crying out in his absence like the Beloved of the Song of Songs: “On my bed night after night, I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but did not find him” (SoS 3:1); and, “I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned away and gone. My heart went out to him but I did not find him; I called him but he did not answer. . . . I am lovesick” (SoS 5:6, 8). Israel wants Yahweh to come near, to forgive her infidelities, to hold her in his embrace so that she cannot wander. She wants to gaze forever at his unveiled face. All Israel wants is Advent.
Advent is also the hope of the Gentiles. As Sergius Bulgakov observes, the longing of the pagans is more intense, more frenzied, and more tragic than Israel’s. God shows himself to Israel, speaks to her, entrusts her with his oracles, dwells in her. Gentiles, Paul says, are “excluded from the people of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, without God and without hope in the world.” They experience, Bulgakov says, the “horror of god-abandonment . . . precisely in moments of its religious ascents.” Polytheism itself arises not from a lack of desire to ascend to the unknown God but from “the powerlessness to do so.” That, Bulgakov suggests, is why Gentiles greet the Christ more readily than many Jews. As prodigals, they’ve eaten from the pigsty and are ready to return to the Father’s house.
In the Advent liturgy of Revelation, Jews and Gentiles, united as one bride, filled with the fiery love of the Bridegroom that is the flame of Yahweh, pray the prayer at the heart of all prayer: “Hurry, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.”
Peter J. Leithart is president of the Theopolis Institute.
First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.
Click here to make a donation.
Click here to subscribe to First Things.