Souvenirs and Invitation
Some of you may be old enough to remember small circular pieces of metal which were used to buy and sell goods and services before the days of Amazon and plastic cards. Yes, the ones we called “coins”.
If you can still find one — check under the cushion on the sofa — have a look and you will see that a common feature is the stamping of the head of a person being celebrated and year in which the coin was minted. I’ll return to the coins in a moment.
We in the Christianized West reckon our years since “Anno Domini” (Latin for “in the year of our Lord”) and the number supposedly marks the number of years of time that have passed since Christ was born. Still, it all tends to get very confusing, because although Jesus technically would have been born in 1 A.D. we actually count from year 0 A.D. in the same way you count your birthdays.
To add to the confusion, record keeping and historical accuracy wasn’t very good in the Dark Ages and Medieval Times, and it’s now been a couple of millennia since the event. We’ve changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar to keep the seasons in the right place, so we now think that Jesus was probably born in 4 B.C. Making that adjustment allows the dates of which we are certain to line up correctly. I like to tell people I was born in 71 BC (before covid!)
But back to coins!
Most people in biblical times didn’t use coins for everyday buying and selling, since that was most often done by bartering. However, coins were a convenient way to store wealth in a small space — after all, a few coins is much more convenient than a herd of cattle in terms of storage! So, generally, coins tended to be few and far between, except for “advents”.
An “advent” (Latin for “coming,” “revealing,” “appearing,” or “showing”) was a very special occasion where the emperor or king would make a journey outside his city and palace to make a special visit to the far away subjects of his realm so that they could see him, be awed in his presence, and render proper worship and respect.
Much like a presidential or royal visit today, special and unusual preparations would be made. The city would be “spruced up” to give the best impression, special taxes would be levied to pay for the festivities (’twas ever thus!). Special sacrifices would be offered to the local gods in order to ensure everything went well. And special advent coins would be minted showing the head of the honoree and the date of the visit.
It is in no small part because of these coins as well as inscriptions on public monuments that we are able to line up historical events and accounts that may have otherwise only been passed down by word of mouth. These advent coins became precious souvenirs and were a kind of status symbol proclaiming “I was there”!
There is a Greek equivalent to advent that appears in several places in the New Testament with an equivalent meaning and history. It is the word “parousia” which could be roughly translated as “the royal presence with us.” The equivalent word in Hebrew would be Immanuel, "God with us.”
Although in a few short weeks we will all be celebrating “advent” once again, the New Testament Greek word is never used to refer to that first joyous Christmas proclaiming peace on earth and goodwill to everyone. Rather, it is always used to refer to the future. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 1:7, 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23; James 5:7; 2 Peter 1:16, 3:4,12; and 1 John 2:28. The whole of the New Testament is looking forward to the spectacular “parousia” of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
There will be no need for special sacrifices on that occasion because He himself was the sacrifice.
We who are believers will be the special souvenirs of the occasion because we will be gathered together to Him in celebration of His earthly majesty. We will see Him as He is. We will praise Him for who He is! It will be a truly glorious event to which we look forward.
James M. Black (no relation) captures the anticipation:
“When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound
And time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair.
When the saints of earth shall gather
Over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.”
I won’t need a souvenir coin because I’ll enjoy his presence forever!
It’s my prayer that you are planning to be joining with us.
Blessings on you and yours,