13 Dec Come, Long Expected Jesus
It’s that time of year. The time identified as the “most wonderful” time of the year. Trees are decorated, stockings are hung, and packages are wrapped up in perfect little bows. Christmas carols are playing in all the stores, and the aroma of gingerbread and spiced cider are drifting out of the kitchen. It’s a season of expectation, of believing in miracles. Twinkling lights sparkle in the night, much like the stars simple shepherds gazed up at on the night of Christ’s incarnation. People everywhere await a morning that is coming soon—often paired with countdown calendars and children asking how much longer until they get to open the growing pile of presents under the tree.
Christmas has been celebrated on December 25th since Emperor Constantine set that date aside to observe the birth of Christ in 336 AD. It’s been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870. On the church’s liturgical calendar, the countdown to Christmas takes place the four Sundays prior and is known as the season of Advent, taken from the Latin adventus or “coming.” Christmas Day. Every year we know it’s coming, and we know exactly when to expect it. But we anticipate it just the same. And in that anticipation, we see a reflection of other advents.
In our Bibles, we flip quickly from Malachi to Matthew. It takes us only mere seconds to get from the Old Testament to the New Testament. We rarely give it a thought. But the space between those two books is marked by 400 years of waiting. There were no prophecies, no messages from God to His people. All they had to cling to were promises that were centuries, even millennia, old. He was coming, the promised Messiah. No sooner than the first sin had been committed in the Garden of Eden, God announced His plan to redeem His people (Gen 3:15). Moses wrote about this Savior. So did the prophets. But for 400 years…nothing. God was silent. And in that silence, His people waited. They were oppressed, persecuted, and even killed without so much as a word. There were no paper chains or tiny pieces of chocolate hiding behind little doors to help them count down to the day they would hear from Him again. All they had was their hope in His promises.
Then one night, God broke His silence. Not through the words of a prophet, but with the cry of a newborn babe in a manger in Bethlehem. The fullness of time had come, and God had sent forth His Son to be born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law (Gal 4:4). Gone were the days of God speaking through the prophets. Now He was speaking through His Son—the radiance of His glory, and the exact imprint of His nature (Heb 1:1, 3). God had not given His people a mere mortal. No, no. God had put on flesh and come to dwell with among His people (John 1:1, 14). As surely as Christmas morning rolls around each year, God’s promise had come to fruition. The wait was over. Jesus had come, as the words of the popular carol proclaim, to bring strength and consolation to God’s people.
Unfortunately, the most wonderful time of the year can also be the most difficult time of the year, leaving many to deal with the “holiday blues.”
As we sit staring at our Christmas trees, counting down the days to Christmas and all the things we have to do between now and then, it’s easy to relate with those who found themselves waiting for Christ’s advent 2,000 years ago. Just as it did in their day, our world feels heavy. Last year’s wish that this Christmas would be “normal” has been replaced with vaccine boosters and a new variant, not to mention supply chain shortages. Many of our families will have empty seats at the table when we gather this year, in what is both a time of celebration and of grief. Financial struggles abound for the second…going on third…year in a row. Our bodies battle illness and weakness that make even simple tasks challenging, much less preparing for the holidays. Unfortunately, the most wonderful time of the year can also be the most difficult time of the year, leaving many to deal with the “holiday blues.” Our souls long for something we can’t see, and like our predecessors, we’re left clinging to hope in centuries-old promises.
We, too, are in a period of extended waiting for Christ’s advent. Theologians refer to the time we’re living in as the “already, but not yet.” Christ has come once to initiate His kingdom on earth, but has not returned to fulfill it. Just as He came the first time, though, we know that Jesus is coming a second (Rev 22:12). The exact day and time are a mystery. But we do know that He’s coming. And when He returns, it will not be as a newborn baby, or even as a sacrifice for our sins—it will be as a reigning king (Matt 25:31). Once again the dwelling place of God will be with man, and there will be no more tears or heartache (Rev 21:1-4). Everything will be made new, crowned in the radiance of God’s glory (Rev 21:23).
This time of year, we focus on the manger scene. It is found in our home décor, on our clothing, outside churches and other buildings. We even dress children up in adorable costumes to create a “living” version of it. But if we limit ourselves to the manger, we limit our hope. The manger is just the beginning. Its work was culminated on the cross, and will be completed at Christ’s return. The “magic” of the holiday season captured in department store displays and Hallmark movies is but a faint glimmer of the beauty that awaits those who belong to Christ.
As we count down to the day we celebrate Jesus’s first coming, let us look forward to His second. As we are faced with all the less-than-perfect moments this holiday season will bring, let us cling to the hope that the brokenness of this world will one day pass away. As we fondly reflect on the memories of Christmas past, let us anticipate to the glory that is to come.
“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” –Revelation 22:20