by Zach Simons
“God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:3-5 ESV).
The season of Advent is again upon us and comes to us in the darkest season of the year - a season when the nights are long, the days are chilly, and we look with anticipation towards the coming warmth of spring. It is in this appropriate setting that Advent provides us the opportunity to dwell on some very sweet and profound truths at the core of our faith.
For many Christians unfamiliar with the liturgical year, there may be some confusion surrounding the meaning of the Advent season. We may think it’s synonymous with Christmas time or with the holiday season. Some may even know that Advent focuses on the expectation of Christ’s coming into the world. However, it’s more than merely an anticipation of Christmas day. Only in the shadow of Advent can the miracle of Christmas be fully understood and appreciated. Advent is designed to cultivate our awareness of God’s actions—past, present, and future. It’s a season of waiting in which we eagerly look into the mystery that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). This most definitely includes the recognition and celebration of Christ’s first coming in the humble setting of a manger in Bethlehem, but it also includes recognizing that we live in the hope-filled tension between that first humble arrival, and the second glorious and magnificent arrival that has been promised.
All throughout the Old Testament, prophets spoke of the Messiah’s coming, filling Israel with hope as they toiled through foolish kings, Babylonian exile, and foreign rule. Imagine Israel’s joy when Jesus arrived on the scene and declared “I am He” (John 4:26). “I am the one you’ve been waiting for!” There was skepticism, premature assumptions, calls to arms - all sorts of emotions and reactions to the news that “the hopes and fears of all the years are met” in this God man Jesus Christ. Yet nothing played out as Israel had expected. They had expected the Messiah to be a king in the military or political sense. Not only did he not overthrow the Roman empire by political or military might, but he was condemned to die by his own people and crucified upon a cross. Israel’s joy had turned to confusion, sadness, and disappointment. It looked as if they would have to continue to wait. Yet, in the same humble and quiet way he came to his people, he also redeemed and liberated them. Jesus’ crucifixion was not the end of Israel’s hope. Three days later, in the stillness of Sunday dawn, Jesus rose from the grave, shedding the shackles of death along with his burial garments and pronounced the greatest news we’ve ever been given: this reality is now his people’s reality. The King is alive, his kingdom is eternal, his people will share in his inheritance, and he’ll return to finalize this whole thing. So while Israel no longer needed to wait in agony for the Messiah’s coming, they would need to wait for him to be fully revealed.
In Advent we heighten our anticipation for the ultimate fulfillment of all Old Testament promises about the Messiah’s reign, when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, death will be swallowed up, and every tear will be wiped away. In this way Advent highlights for us the larger story of God’s redemptive plan. When we place ourselves in the midst of this redemptive plan, between what Christ has already done, and what he’s promised yet to do, we find ourselves in wonder as we move through the cyclical dance of remembering and anticipating. We remember Israel’s hoping and waiting, we celebrate and give thanks for Christ’s birth, and we also wait in hope as we anticipate his second coming and the final liberation that it will bring from the sin and pain we still encounter.
Amidst all the holiday celebrations, shopping, lights, and decorations, much of this truth can be lost on us, and all that remains when the holiday rush is over is the sin and pain in our lives that’s so visible and poignant. But in celebrating Advent we are giving ourselves an opportunity to be steeped in the gospel, to be renewed in hope, and to be amazed at God’s wisdom and grace. Everything in our lives must be framed by the promises of God. His promise for Israel and His promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent.