Advent: Reflecting on the Anticipation

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Veni, veni, Emmanuel;
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio
Privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude, gaude; Emmanuel
Nascetur pro te, Israel.

This Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent; this is the first week of the Christian year.

Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas, and of anticipation of God’s coming. There are several aspects to this, which we’ll be considering here today and in the next few weeks.

Just as it is fitting, on Good Friday, to remember and reflect on the terror, confusion, and dread that seized Jesus disciples after his arrest until they became convinced of his resurrection, in this season it is particularly fitting to remember the long history over which God’s people waited patiently and with great longing for God to fulfill his promises. Ad it’s fitting to remember how God prepared his people for his appearance in the flesh.

I tend not to emphasize these, since they’re often the only part of Advent that many churches consider, but we ought not to overlook them.

Over many millennia, from the day of the Fall onward, God’s people waited for him to fulfill his promise of full and final redemption and consummation. From age to age he showed his trustworthiness by keeping other, and more specific, promises (giving the Land to Abraham’s descendants and returning the tribe of Judah after the Exile, for example), and gave more and more hints of details of what the fulfillment of his first and greatest promise would look like (even as he systematically demonstrated that anything less was insufficient—animal blood and covering of shame in the Garden, wiping everyone but his people from the face of the earth, appointing the descendants of one man, speaking a law-code out of the fire …). But for those many, many long years God’s people waited.

We can begin to understand that, a little bit, when we consider our present state—what Reformed theologians sometimes like to call “already/not yet.” But we can only begin to understand, since we have the “already” side of that tension as well as the “not yet”—the Christ is the embodiment of the fulfillment of all God’s promises, and the Spirit dwelling within us is both the “down payment” on or “surety” of them, and the actor moving us ever toward the end goal. By God’s grace, we no longer have to live in the “not yet” without that assurance.

So in Advent we ought to reflect on the grand symphony that finds its climax in the Christ whose birth we celebrate at Christmas—on the disastrous situation every Son of Adam is in, on the recurring imperfect pictures of the One who was to come, and on the grand promises of the faithful God who alone could do anything about our desperate straits.

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