Maybe the greatest challenge of the Advent and Christmas season is to keep its true meaning in front of us. What is Advent really about? Why the trees and the presents and the caroling and the parties? Why all the hullabaloo?
The word advent means “coming.”
What’s coming? Who’s coming?
Well, when you come to the Bible, you find a lot of talk about future things, but one of the most common and prominent future coming things throughout the Scriptures is the promise of a coming figure who would defeat Satan and evil and bring peace and deliverance to His people.
In fact, we don’t have to wait very long after the creation story to find God already talking about this. All the way back in Genesis 3:15 we find the first place where promises are made and where people begin anticipating or waiting upon someone who is going to come.
In Genesis 3:15 we have God saying that a future descendant of the woman will crush the head of the serpent, Satan, which lead man and woman into sin.
Many theologians call this the “protoevangelium” which is a fancy way of saying, the first announcement of the gospel (the good news), that one is coming who would deliver man and woman from their sins.
So right off, in the Scriptures, we have a sense of anticipation—a sense of forward looking towards a future, great deliverer that is coming.
Jesus, the Long Awaited Deliverer
Of course, over time God would make many more promises to His people and would add many layers to this promise. We know that he would be one like Moses who delivered his people from captivity. We know that he would be a son of King David. We know that he would be born of a virgin. We know that he would be a suffering servant, one who was crushed and afflicted; one whose own wounds bring about our healing. We know that he will sight to the blind and set the prisoner free. We know that he will pour out his spirit on young and old and men and women, slave and free. All of this and much more, we know from later promises that were given in the time of the Old Testament prophets.
All of this would take thousands of years to unfold, but finally he came in the person of Jesus Christ. And the world has never been the same.
But things didn’t stop there, did they? No! History didn’t end. God still has plans and is still doing many things. With the coming of Jesus came new insights into the Old Testament prophets and also new prophecies about the future.
So although the advent, or “coming” of the Messiah, the Christ figure of the Old Testament, is here, that does not mean we are done waiting.
Christians Are Still Waiting Today
Christians are still waiting today. What are we waiting for now? Over and over again the New Testament talks about Jesus coming again. One well known story is found in Acts chapter 1 verses 6 through 11:
Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
There it is. This same Jesus, will come back, just as you’ve seen him go. And in many other places similar things are said of Christ.
And Advent is a time for us to talk about that and express that reality in tangible ways. Like today, for instance, we light the candle of hope. There are two things about hope to realize. First, hope points to a future reality. Take Romans 8:24 and 25 for instance:
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Hope points forward. But secondly, hope also points to something wonderful. We don’t hope in bad things. We hope in good things. So there are good things coming. Romans 8 that same passage talks about how all creation groans as though it were in childbirth for the restoration of the earth and for the revealing of the sons of God. Those are good things that have not happened yet, so we hope in them.
So today we light the candle of hope to say, yes of course, Christ has come, he has fulfilled many prophesies, but not all is complete yet and we are still waiting for his final coming and for the complete and full restoration of all things.
The Second Advent of Christ
The church has picked up on this and that is why historically, Advent has been the time when Christians actively anticipate and prepare for the 2nd coming of Christ.
The Latin word adventus (where we get the word Advent from) is the Latin translation of the Greek word Parousia (pe-ROO-zea), which is a word commonly used of Christ’s second coming.
Because of Christmas, which follows the season of Advent, and because of the huge commercialization of the holiday, it is easy to think only of Christ’s first coming or first advent during these four weeks, but that would be a mistake. Because, as I’ve already said, we are still today, waiting upon Christ to come again.
Already and Not-Yet
We live in that already not-yet period of time that I’ve spoken of before.
Christ has already come and brought fulfillment to many of the promises that we see in the Old Testament, but they are not yet completely fulfilled in some senses.
For instance, God has promised that he will complete the work that he has started in us who believe (Phil. 1:6) . In a sense that promise is already fulfilled. We are complete in Christ and before God we are blameless and clean, right now. However, we still live in this sinful flesh and we still sin and struggle every day. So the full fulfillment of that promise will not happen until the day of Christ Jesus, when he returns again and we are changed in the twinkling of an eye and given our perfect, resurrection bodies.
So, in that sense we are already complete and not-yet complete.
This is what Advent is all about for us as Christians. We live in that in between time—in between the two advents of Christ.
So even today, as Christians, we are still in a posture of waiting. We are still anticipating. God has been faithful to send the Deliverer once, and we know He will come again.
And that is what Advent is about.
This blog is an excerpt from a recent message by Pastor Josh. Watch on YouTube here.
My life is one of contradictions. I’m a southern boy living in northern New England; a boring guy married to super-fun girl; a conservative pastor in a progressive Christian denomination; a changed man in need of change; a sinner loved by a holy and perfect God.