Christmas is coming!
How do I know? Look around…listen.
The lights are being strung. I see Christmas trees in many foyer windows as I drive through our neighborhood (including my own!). Amy Grant’s “Tender Tennessee Christmas” has already been played in our house, and Nat King Cole singing of Jack Frost nipping at your nose (and other classics!) is now heard daily in gas stations, shopping centers, and public markets. The holiday festivities are gearing up in large ways as they do every year. The same is true in the church—The Advent Season is NOW! If your church celebrates, like ours, with the traditional candle lighting and scripture reading during Advent then you are fully aware that festivities are here.
A Celebration of Waiting
The Advent Season is interesting because it is a celebration of waiting. Have you considered that? The term Advent means “arrival,” so as the weeks pass there is a building anticipation toward the arrival of God’s promise, but all of this is framed in waiting. At the heart of this waiting is a faith-filled anticipation of the promised Prince of Peace. So, every year we remember the miracle of Jesus’ birth—and we should! Not only as a specific act of worship of God, honoring this uniquely magnificent event, but it serves as a reminder for us to STOP and consider our place in history: living between the Advents. Jesus’ birth is not the only Advent, it was the first Advent. The second Advent is still to come and with it the renewal of ALL THINGS (Rev. 21:5).
I want to use the next few posts to consider how our interaction with this Advent Season can be magnified by considering both advents — both what has been accomplished and what is to come. This means our celebration of Advent is both a worshipful remembering of Jesus’ first coming and also a faith-filled anticipation of what is coming when He returns… both having great impact on each of our “todays” until that time comes. The first question is: are we waiting well?
What are we waiting for?
The Israelites were looking for and anticipating the arrival of a leader who would release them from oppression and set them on their feet once again as a nation united to God and under His leadership. What came with the first advent was the arrival of a leader who released them from the deeper oppression their hearts experienced under sin and set them by faith on their feet as a people with personal relationship with the God of Heaven. It was not the way leaders expected things to go, but God provided what His people didn’t realize they needed: soul rescuing. And with this salvation came the gift of God’s mission to be carried out by the following generations until Jesus returns.
We look back and are able to celebrate the steps of anticipation experienced by God’s people in a four-week period every year, but I fear we forget we remain in our own time of anticipation and waiting. SO, what are we waiting for? Like Israel we look for fulfillment; prophetic promises not of inauguration but of finalization. That finalization is a redemptive reality as well as an actual place wrapped up together in what we know as “Heaven.”
Revelation 21:1-5 says “All things new” (5) is the extent of God’s final redemption and this on the tail end of His own permanent arrival with His people (3). Heaven is coming, brought by Jesus Himself, and with it God’s presence, the ultimate and complete removal of brokenness and death, as well as the healing of what has been endured by His people (4). We are waiting for complete wholeness, peace, and joy unhindered — each coming as a result of God’s presence. Does that not sound incredible?! Those really are tidings of comfort and joy that we can sing about!!
Beware of the “That’s Tomorrow” Attitude
Heaven, as both a place and a reality of redemption, is an interesting topic. Generally, it seems to receive very little focus as a source of practical influence, because (after all) it is not yet here. David MacLeod reported, “77 percent of Americans believe in Heaven. Yet many do not want to talk about it.”1 And why would people not want to talk about Heaven? It is likely that the topic is largely viewed as irrelevant for today. The conclusion might go: “Sure, Heaven is a real place, but it comes after death, so it has few (if any) implications for living life now.” This is not the attitude that Scripture paints, instead we read of Heaven, and the anticipated finalization of God’s promises, as one of the weightiest motivations for the Christian life now. The “That’s Tomorrow” attitude stifles our faith-filled anticipation of God’s promises which should actually be shaping our today. Have you experienced that attitude? I confess I have. So what should things look like?
Waiting like Israel…
What should our response be as we begin experiencing another month of Advent this holiday season? We need to ask ourselves if we are waiting well. And this actually looks a lot like Israel before the birth of their long-awaited Savior… which is the perfect framework for us as God’s people! Their waiting was filled with longing. Their waiting was filled with hope. Their waiting gave them strength for the present. Their waiting motivated their worship, because they trusted God’s Word of promise of what was to come. With that in mind, we see that waiting looks far more active than passive! I wonder if that is how your waiting looks? I ask myself the same questions:
Am I waiting with a sense of longing, deeply desiring His fulfilled promise?
Does my waiting develop a strong sense of hope, knowing that He will fulfill His promise?
Is that hope-filled waiting giving me strength for my struggle today?
Does my present waiting draw my heart to worship a God who is trustworthy to fulfill all that He has promised?
As Advent begins…
Let us celebrate with renewed worship the reality Jesus has accomplished in His first coming. He miraculously took on human flesh to take on human sin to bring about Divine redemption for your sake! Wow! And we live because of that!
As you read your Advent study (I’ve named a few below if you’re looking 2) allow yourself to be caught up in the anticipation God’s people had throughout the Old Testament. Capture the longing, sense their hope, witness the strengthening effects of God’s promise… and then take a moment to consider how those parallel our waiting today and how our worship this holiday season can (and should) become marks of our worship throughout the year and throughout our lives as we embrace our reality between the Advents. Trusting, Longing, and Hoping in our returning Prince of Peace. That is definitely a reason to tell others about the significance of the first Advent, because in it we have the foundation for the unlimited joy and celebration of the second that will have no end.
Next time we consider the picture in Isaiah of God’s redeeming works that redefine our dignity in this life—getting practical about the impact of Advent. These works began in the first advent and are finished in the second.
1. David J. MacLeod, “The Seventh ‘Last Thing’: The New Heaven and the New Earth (Rev. 21:1-8) Bibliotheca Sacra 157 (October-December), 439.
2. The Advent Jesse Tree is a great daily advent reading for families and adults. Come Let Us Adore Him is a more recent advent devotional by Paul David Tripp. Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller gives several background pieces surrounding the birth narratives that help enlarge our celebration of Christmas. The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper is another great advent devotional for teens/adults.