We have officially entered the season of Advent. But what does that mean? This word “advent” means “arrival,” or “coming.” Now the Advent season consists of the four Sundays before Christmas. During this period two crucial facts are remembered.
First, that Jesus Christ has come. All the Old Testament pointed forward to this coming seed of the woman who would come to crush the head of the serpent (cf. Gen. 3:15). That seed promise grew into a mighty cedar, and we can today examine the bark, the branches, and the leaves all throughout the writings of Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (cf. Luke 24:44-46). This is the first fact of Advent. In this season we look back on the Old Testament promises and consider the necessity of the Lord Jesus Christ’s first coming.
The Lord Jesus’ first coming was in humiliation. As our Westminster Shorter Catechism notes, “Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God, and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried, and continuing under the power of death for a time.” (WSC Q. 27) In this first coming, we find the life of Christ Jesus as we read it in the Gospels up until His Ascension to the right hand of God.
The second fact of Advent encompasses the promise that one day the Lord Jesus will return in glory. The second coming of Christ will be quite unlike His first coming; it will not be in humiliation. What will it be like? It will be in glory. It will be with the heavenly armies. It will be public, not private. It will be global, not local. It will be definitive and immediate, not progressive, nor delayed. Christ will come and vanquish all His and our enemies, and we too will be transformed. Our lowly, corruptible bodies will be transformed into heavenly, incorruptible bodies no longer subject to death, sickness, nor decay. We will be made like him as John promises, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2 ESV)
Let us embark into this Christian New Year, this season of Advent, by remembering both of these crucial facts. What are those facts again? That Christ has come, and He shall come again! The season of Advent then is a season of anticipation and a season of penitential reflection.
So often people speak of the Christian season of Lent (that time between Ash Wednesday and Easter) as a season of reflection, confession, and penitence. But if Advent is truly a season meant to contemplate the second coming of the Son of God, then sober self-reflection is due. Now this is a very unpopular concept because we are all too often quick to inform other people of the ways they have failed and far less swift to identify the log in our own eye (cf. Matt. 7:4-6). But Scripture calls us to humility.
As Christians, our aim is to be honest. We are to seek out God’s Word and submit ourselves to it, rather than seeking to submit God’s Word to our own interests, preferences, and proclivities. When a church does elevates its own preferences to the level of Scripture, it soon becomes a spiritual mausoleum. This is forgotten too often. Just as the Gospel brings in God’s promises, so it is also accompanied by God’s warnings. I will leave you then with one of the greatest displays of God’s promise and warning combined in those famous words of Jesus so often quoted only in part. May they strengthen your souls in this Advent season of waiting, and pensive expectation.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16-21 ESV)