The Advent Season prepares us for Christmas and the celebration of the birth of our Lord. It also looks forward to His promised return. There are a number of teachings taken from different passages of Scripture about how Jesus will return and what He will do. Many of us believe that He return is near, but the truth from Scripture is that we can’t know when Jesus will come again. That is something only God, the Father, knows. And we don’t know exactly what it will look like when He does come. We are taught to watch, to be aware of our times, and be prepared. We should want and long for the soon return of our Lord. That longing is not just for Him to take us out of this evil world. Rather, as both Old and New Testaments say, He is our Bridegroom. We, the Church, are His Bride. The longing of a bride is always to be with her groom. The Lord will deal with each one according to His perfect justice, but our desire is to draw as many into His love as possible so that we may all be joined to Him at His return.
We are in the beginning of the Advent Season. Advent, the four weeks preceding Christmas, is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. As all the scripture lessons chosen for this time of year make clear, it is more than preparing for a Christmas celebration. It is preparing our hearts anew for the coming again of our Saviour. Scripture clearly teaches that Jesus will come again to receive believers to Himself, and to deal with the brokenness and confusion in which this world finds itself. The Prophet Malachi, in the last book of our Old Testament, wrote, “On the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”(3:17-18) There are many words in Scripture that speak of these “last days”. None of us knows when, or exactly what it will be like. For those who know the Lord it should not be a fearful prospect, but a deep desire and our ultimate hope. We look for, we long for, we prepare our hearts for, the appearing of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. There can be no greater joy, and it could be this day.
Advent is a season of preparation, both for the celebration of the birth of our Lord, and for His appearing again at His second coming. Christmas we can handle. We may get a bit frazzled by last minute details, but we will be ready. But what about Jesus’ coming again? How are we prepared for that? Was Matthew prepared, sitting at the tax collection booth, or James and John in the fishing boat mending their nets, when Jesus looked at them, and simply said, “follow me”? I don’t know if they were or not, but they were obedient and followed Him. Our preparation is not something that we do, but something that we are by God’s grace. It is He who places the desire in our hearts for the Risen Lord above all else. Do we truly hunger and thirst for Jesus, and for the fulfillment of His Kingdom? Is this desire greater than all of our hopes and plans for this life? If so, then we are prepared to greet Him at His appearing.
It is interesting how often the Scriptures tell us to wait on the Lord, to trust and not be afraid. Advent is a season of waiting in anticipation. Waiting is something we don’t do very well. In our fast passed world we want it now. But for those who are willing to wait on the Lord, the promise of salvation, help, strength, goodness, righteousness, and mercy are given to them. Waiting implies trust. We believe the promises we’ve been given in Scripture, and we have seen the Lord’s faithfulness in many past actions. One who waits on the Lord believes that He will accomplish all that He has promised. Waiting says that our lives are centered in the Lord, and all of our ultimate hope is placed in Him. No, waiting is not easy. Like a little child waiting for Santa. But our hope is placed in One who far exceeds any Santa. Our hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ who is always faithful to those who put there trust in Him.
Yesterday was the beginning of Advent in the Church Year. Advent emphasizes a duel preparation. First for the celebration of Christmas, the birth of the Christ Child. This is a truth that was accomplished in first century Israel. Emmanuel, Almighty God took on human flesh in the Bethlehem Baby. He came to provide redemption for mankind. Secondly, Advent accepts the promise of resurrected Christ that He would come again to earth at the conclusion of God’s purpose for man’s time on earth. Advent celebrates the first coming of our Lord, and waits in anticipation for His return. All of this takes seriously the sinful condition of all mankind that desperately needs the intervention of our Lord. We like to think that we have progressed so far in human life, yet we simply devour one another with more sophisticated means. We are in a spiritual battle. Advent points our hearts toward the only One who can lead us to victory. Advent encourages us to pray for Christ’s soon coming, and to be watchful. This could be the day of His appearing.
Yesterday began the season of Advent. The day before we had decorated the church for Christmas with a tree, wreaths, and purple paraments of the season. There are many symbols in stores, and home decorations that something is about to happen. For the community it generally revolved around Santa Clause. All of the anticipation focuses on children, family gatherings, gifts, meals and so on. We enjoy all these things, but for the church the message is different. The Christmas decorations proclaim the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, as we recall all of the events surrounding the wonderful incarnation of our gracious God. But this season also proclaims the truth we confess that our Lord will come again in glory to complete the purpose for which we were created. Jesus taught us to watch, to look with expectation for His return. As time goes on we tend to grow dull in that expectation, but the promise is sure. Advent emphasized again our hope that this could be the day of Christ’s appearing.
In the church’s liturgical calendar, the long Pentecost Season is over and we are beginning Advent, looking forward to the coming of the promised Messiah. Advent always has a two fold meaning, celebrating the birth of Christ, and looking forward to His coming again to reign as King. Much of the Old Testaments prophets spoke in this same tone, the immediate promise of Immanuel, God with us, and the more distant time of the conclusion of all things at the end of God’s plan for earth. We have now been a long time in the first coming of our Lord, a time of ministry, sharing his gracious love throughout the world. Jesus left us with the word to watch, to be expectant each day, that this could be the day of His coming. In that expectancy, to prepare our hearts for the joyful promise of coming into the presence of the living Christ. Advent is a time of preparation, above all a heart preparation of looking for and long the coming of our Lord.
A greeting that we sometimes use among Christians is from Psalm 118:24. One person will say, “This is the day which the LORD has made;” and the other will respond, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It is a good way to start off every day, but it is especially appropriate in this Advent season anticipating the coming of the Christ. Psalm 118 has a prophetic tone, and in the two verses before this exclamation we read, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone, the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (vss.22 & 23) This is the verse Jesus quotes about Himself in Matthew 21:42. Psalm 118:24 is an expression filled with hope, centered in our trust in the Lord’s promises. Jesus has come, and Jesus will come again. This is our joy for each day. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.