“Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.” (Charles Wesley, 1744))
Advent has gained momentum. From scripture readings to church music, to the lighting of the wreath – there is no doubt that we are now in this blessed season of anticipation. Even the weather tells me it’s that time of the year (brrr). How we got here, I have no clue. The year seems to have gone by faster than I could imagine.
Although Advent seems to some a mere prelude to Christmas, it is in itself a grace-filled season of longing for the Savior. We remember in awe that greatest mystery of all when God became man and was born in Bethlehem. Christ “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:7) But while we celebrate his coming as a baby, we who have placed our hope in Christ also bear in our hearts an even deeper longing for his second coming, when he shall return as the triumphant King.
In the account of Christ’s ascension into heaven in Acts 1, we read the following – “And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes and said ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.'” (verses 10-11) Advent reminds us that we live in what many Christians have called “the already but not yet.” We live in the knowledge that we are sinners who have already been redeemed by his death and resurrection, yet we are still waiting for the day when our Lord Jesus Christ takes us into glory and sin will be no more. “But our citizenship is in heaven and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Philippians 3:20 For us who are in Christ, the best is yet to come indeed. This is the hope that explains why the apostle Paul considered shipwrecks, illness, hunger, persecution “a light momentary affliction that is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17)”. I love Paul because from the moment he met Jesus, he just never took his eyes (and the eyes of his heart) off him. He knew that nothing could be sweeter than to enjoy the full glorious presence of Christ forever. In his final days, he wrote to Timothy “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-8 In a dark and damp Roman prison cell, the glory of heaven was so close, Paul could almost taste it!
I believe that Advent gives us an opportunity to know this kind of longing for Christ and find strength in the hope that one day our Bridegroom, the King of Kings, will come in glory beyond description, to usher us, his bride, into his kingdom where we shall dwell with him forevermore. No poet, author, artist, can capture the beauty that our eyes will one day behold when Christ comes again. And so we wait. And we wait in confidence because he is faithful and true.
“Be patient, therefore brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also be patient. Establish your hearts for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” James 5:7-8
James tells us that to live in the “already but not yet” requires patience. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and an expression of love (1 Corinthians13:4). God’s word instructs us on patience and his creation illustrates it.
Where I live, the season of Advent falls around the time when temperatures drop, snow begins to cover the ground, and ponds and lakes turn into ice. While taking a walk on a chilly Sunday afternoon in our local arboretum, I happened to stare at one of the frozen ponds, and I thought to myself how depressingly dreary it looked. I thought I liked it so much better in the summer with ducks floating and foliage growing. However, in a matter of minutes, the clouds gave way to the afternoon rays of the sun, and I saw how the still and seemingly lifeless pond reflected the sunlight so beautifully. Snow crystals, like multifaceted diamonds, provide multiple surfaces where light could bounce. (Brilliant!)
Could it be that our patient waiting, far from being useless, in fact enables us to reflect the light of Christ? When our hearts learn to be still before our Savior and are bathed in his light, we become more like him and we reflect his image more clearly to a watching world. We so often desire to glorify him by our deeds. We forget that he is also glorified in our trustful waiting. Let us abide in him – our long expected Jesus, the joy of every longing heart.
“And now little children, abide in him, so that when he appears, we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” 1 John 2:28