Welcome to week three of Advent. In this series of posts I’ve been exploring some of the themes of this short season of Christian year that is designed to prepare our hearts once again for the celebration of Christmas. Hopefully these thoughts will stir you to some deeper reflection this Advent season.
In the last post, we talked about Advent being an invitation to put ourselves into the place of the people of God just before Jesus was born. Think of all the years of nothing from God but silence. There must have been some people anxiously waiting, some confidently expecting, and I’m sure many who had lost all hope.
That sounds like it could be true of us today don’t you think? Many people are anxiously waiting in what feels like endless darkness for a light to shine in. Some are confidently expecting deliverance. Many are hopeless and wandering.
Even though we don’t talk much about it, Advent is a season to expect the two aspects of Christ’s coming – both his first coming as a baby in Bethlehem and his second coming (or “second advent”) to rule and reign as the conquering King of all kings. Most of the time we neglect the second in light of the first. But the fact is that we are still waiting, that Christ will come again. And this is really good news for waiting people.
It sounds a little strange, but the pre-Christmas season is a time to remember once again that judgement is coming. It’s east to think only of the first coming of Jesus, but we need to let our hearts be arrested once again by the sobering reality that he will come to reign once again as the righteous Judge. This life as we know it is only temporary, and true life is still to come.
I think judgement gets misunderstood quite a bit in our time because it is seen as predominantly negative. But God’s judgment will be a good and glorious thing because it means the restoration of all things, liberation from the curse of sin forever, the institution of God’s righteous rule every sphere of life. Evil will not have the last word. Judgement won’t be all about casting evil into fiery depths (although that is part of it).
The King will come to reign and there will be peace and joy an safety and no more death.
Yes, judgement is terrifying to those with no hope, with no robes of righteousness to cover their rags (Is. 61:10, Matt. 22:12). But for those in Christ judgement is a glorious thing. Why? Because we have been judged already in Christ. Christ has taken our punishment and our judgment upon himself. We don’t have to fear judgement because for us it has already taken place on the cross. All that’s left for us is to welcome God’s coming because we know we stand beneath the righteousness of the Perfect One who was judged on our behalf.
The second advent of Christ stands in such a contrast to the first, and yet it will be the culmination of what began in Bethlehem. St. Augustine of Hippo wrote:
The first coming of Christ the Lord, God’s son and our God, was in obscurity; the second will be in the sight of the whole world. When he came in obscurity no one recognized him but his own servants; when he comes openly he will be known by both good people and bad. When he came in obscurity, it was to be judged; when he comes openly it will be to judge.
The first advent of Christ was in a lonely corner of the world and was known to few. His second advent will be in the sight of all the world, and there will be no question about his kingship.
So in this season, I invite you to take time not only to look back to the stable and the anticipation of the Messiah’s birth, but to look forward with anticipation for the restoration of all things, the Great Wedding Feast, and the reign of the King of Righteousness. It gives his first coming a whole new meaning when we remember that the Baby born in a manger isn’t just a cute story that we tell every year. He was born for a purpose, born to live and die and rise victorious over sin and death… But that is not the end. He will return with radiance and glory to reclaim his bride and his whole creation. We stand in the in-between of the two Advents, and every year at this time we remember we have much to look forward to. God’s story is unfolding –and the best is yet to come. The birth of the Christ-child is beautiful, but it is just the beginning of his plan of redemption.