It’s been a rough few weeks. It seems virtually all of the news is bad. Whether it’s ISIS, Boko Haram, the refugee crisis, or, here at home, the troubling trends in American culture, depression, if not outright despair, seems like a reasonable response.
Thankfully, God has provided a remedy for this temptation, and it’s as close as your nearest Church calendar. I’m speaking of Advent, which begins this Sunday.
Relatively few Americans, including many Christians, understand what Advent is really about. Here’s a hint, it’s more than just a countdown to Christmas.
For nearly two millennia, Advent has been the season in which Christians reflect on the bookends of God’s redemptive acts in Christ: His Incarnation and His coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
These bookends are arguably best described in the hymns associated with Advent. They express the human longing for God to set everything aright, to wipe every tear from our eyes.
Take the hymn “Creator of the Stars of Night.” It was written, probably in England, sometime between 600 and 800 A.D., in the midst of what is commonly known as the “Dark Ages.” Life was unimaginably hard for those living back then: war was endemic, as was destitution, disease, and hunger.
This reality is reflected in the hymn’s opening stanza: “Creator of the stars of night, Thy people’s everlasting light, Jesu, Redeemer, save us all, and hear Thy servants when they call.”
But it doesn’t stop there. The hymn then recalls the first bookend of God’s great redemptive act: “Thou, grieving that the ancient curse should doom to death a universe, hast found the medicine, full of grace, to save and heal a ruined race.”
It then looks forward to the second bookend: “O Thou whose coming is with dread, to judge and doom the quick and dead, preserve us, while we dwell below, from every insult of the foe.”
Now, talk of a dread coming and judging the quick and the dead no doubt sounds jarring to modern ears, but it’s a reminder that in Advent, we not only recall Jesus’ first coming, we look forward to Jesus’ second coming. And part of that looking forward is examining our lives.
That’s why Gospel passages like the parable of the wise and foolish virgins are associated with Advent. We’re called to be about our Lord’s business as we await His return.
But the word that best expresses the spirit of Advent is the refrain from the best-known Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: Rejoice!
We are to rejoice even when all the news is bad because all the news that really matters is the “Good News.” God, in Christ, has decisively dealt with sin and evil. At his first coming, as Paul told the Philippians, he took on “human form, [and] humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even on a cross.”
This resulted in his being given the “dread name” to whom “all knees must bend,” and “hearts must bow.”
To paraphrase Linus van Pelt, this is what Advent is all about, Charlie Brown.
May God bless you this Advent season!
— by Eric Metaxas
Metaxas is the voice of Breakpoint, a radio commentary (www.breakpoint.org). Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Resource: He Has Come: The Worldview of Advent by John Stonestreet, T. M. Moore, Colson Center