The Already and Not Yet of Advent
Jason Haynes | December 01, 2017
If you’re like me, every Christmas season you promise yourself that this year is going to be different.
This will be the year you put forth your best effort to remember and focus on the reason for the season. This will be the year you stand in righteous indignation against the gross commercialization of your Savior’s birth! Then the party invitations come, the shopping has to be done, there’s so much cheer to spread around, and, if you're like me, it’s not until you’re sitting in that Christmas Eve service with your Uncle Pat and Aunt Rosemary when you remember you were going to do it different this year. And you didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good Christmas party and new sweater as much as the next guy. A couple of years ago, however, I finally found something to help me in my battle to reclaim some of the sacredness of the Christmas season. And that was a little thing called…
Like many of you, I grew up in a tradition that didn’t follow the Church calendar, so my exposure to advent early in life was extremely limited. Specifically, it was limited to hoping I would be chosen to open one of the doors of the advent calendar in Mrs. Bowden’s 3rd grade class. But a few years ago, I began attending a liturgical church and was exposed to the real and deep meaning of Advent for the first time.
Advent (which means “coming” or “arrival”) is a season of anticipation – waiting, praying, and hoping for the coming of the Messiah. It’s a four week period where we, as the Church and as individuals, pause and look back at Jesus’ first coming as our Redeemer, and look forward to His second coming as our Restorer. If you are familiar with the 4-part gospel vernacular of 'creation, fall, redemption, restoration' you will recognize that Advent is an acknowledgment and celebration of where we currently stand in history. Sitting right between redemption and restoration – in the already and the not yet.
Observing Advent provides us an opportunity to slow down and participate in a daily rhythm of prayer and scripture reading which prepares and points our hearts towards the Christ who is our greatest treasure, our greatest joy, and our greatest good.
First, we focus on the already of the first advent of Christ. One of my favorite Advent hymns is "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus." The most powerful line from that hymn is, “Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.” This perfectly encapsulates the already of Advent. The great light promised by the Creator and prophesized by Isaiah is finally here! Our King has ushered in His kingdom, and, with it, has redeemed and rescued us from darkness. While we celebrate that the power of sin has indeed been broken in our lives, freeing us from our bondage, we are still aware of the multitude of ways we are living for our own little kingdoms every single day.
The understanding and acceptance of this reality points us right to the not yet of Advent. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that, “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up until the present time.” We are still waiting, right with the creation, for God to complete His grand restoration project. In the second advent that we so eagerly await He will return to make all things new once and for all. As "Joy to the World" states, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He come to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found!” The curse has been broken! Death has been swallowed up in victory! When we live in anticipation of the second advent and the light of eternity we discover hope in a hopeless world. Our disappointments, heartaches, struggles, and pain are all temporary, but His love endures forever!
Let the promises of Advent fuel your confidence that one day God will complete His work of mending the world and ushering in shalom. Until then we wait. We trust. We pray fervently. And we hope.