We have entered into Advent, which marks the beginning of a new Church Year. The Christian year consists of different seasons that serve to trace the life and ministry of Christ Jesus when he entered into time to bring about our salvation. Observing these times and seasons is not just about looking back at what has already taken place; it also has much present day relevance. It enables us to inhabit the redemptive Story of God and enables that Story to inhabit us.
It is somewhat like watching a very good movie and finding ourselves being drawn into the plot as if we were there in those scenes and we feel for the characters – we are angered by the injustice, we even tear or sob and we leap for joy when evil triumphs over good. Even long after the movie, we keep thinking about the twists and turns in the story line and the unresolved questions and how we might respond if we were there. While we vow we will never be that villain, we gain great inspiration to live out those values expounded by the movie which resonate with us.
Mutual inhabitation – we inhabit the story and the story inhabits us.
If we can be captivated by a man-made movie, what more the Story of God! As we recall afresh the significance of each movement in that Story, we allow the Spirit to draw us into the narrative, shape our discipleship, and affect the way we live sanctified lives before God, for our good, and for His pleasure and glory. If we faithfully do this year after year, we will be transformed into the likeness of Christ whose Being and Doing permeate the whole Story.
We start with the first movement, that of Advent. Advent means “coming”. Although Advent spans only 4 Sundays, the coming of the Messiah spanned the whole of the Old Testament. In Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve fell, God had already foretold that Christ would be coming. He shall bruise the serpent’s head and the serpent shall bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15). When God called Abram (later named Abraham) to be the father of his nation Israel, he also said to him that in him all the families or nations of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:3). Delivering Israel from the bondage of Egypt, the giving of the law and the provision of the sacrificial system to atone for sins, the choosing of kings where God promised David that he would establish the throne of his son’s kingdom forever, the building of the temple, the prophecies of the prophets concerning judgment and restoration, the exile in Babylon and the return of the remnant to live under foreign powers – all these serve as progressive signposts for the coming of the anointed one to deliver God’s people. This is the story that leads up to Christ Jesus.
The whole of the OT is therefore the text for Advent. Though it was a very long wait for his coming, God did not forget his promise. He may take his time but he keeps his word. He may appear to be working very slowly but what he has said will surely come to pass. He often does not work according to our calendar; he does not follow our schedule. He makes all things beautiful in his time. And so in his sovereignty and providence, in the fullness of time, the coming of Christ was realised when the angel made the announcement: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
How can recalling afresh the first coming of Jesus shape our discipleship? How does allowing ourselves to be drawn into the Christmas story help to affect the way we live our lives? The beautiful thing about OT prophecies is that there can be a few layers of fulfillment – historical immediacy (what was relevant to the first audience), messianic intermediacy (fulfilled by Christ’s 1st Advent) and eschatological finality (fulfilled by Christ’s 2nd Advent). If we think that Christ is taking too long a time to come again, we must remember that just as God’s ways are not our ways, God’s timing is also not our timing. Christ’s first coming some 2 000 years ago fulfilled the prophecies from of old and since we worship a God who is immutable (he is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow), he too will be faithful in fulfilling the prophesies he has made concerning Christ’s second coming.
Surely he is coming again. If we have that kind of eager expectancy, we will live our lives very differently. If we have that kind enthusiastic anticipation, we will not be caught by surprise even if Christ comes back like a thief. No one will know when he is returning. It will be a surprise. The only way not to be caught by surprise is to stay wide awake, so that whether the thief comes right now, or at 12 midnight, or at 3 am in the morning, we are prepared to face him. We shouldn’t be chasing after conspiracy theories on when Christ will return. We should rather focus on working out our salvation with fear and trembling.
This can mean living our lives differently from the world, i.e. to be counter cultural. So when the world is busy shopping and merry making this Christmas season, we choose to prepare ourselves to receive the King by being penitent, quietly reflecting on how we have been conducting our lives in these strange times and making room in our hearts for him.
Let us inhabit Advent. We usually light candles during the Advent season with each candle representing a gift – the gift of hope, love, joy and peace. All these are present in his first coming. God is with us, Christ our Emmanuel, he shall reign forever, the hope of Israel. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. The angels told the shepherd bearing the news of Christ’s birth: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people… glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.”
Let Advent inhabit us. These same gifts will prepare us for his coming. Our hope for his return is solidly based on the integrity of the one who has proven himself over and over again that he is trustworthy. We continue to love one another as Christ has loved us; love defines us as Christians because when we demonstrate love, we show that we are disciples of Christ who himself is love. Be joyful always and give thanks in all circumstances for the joy of the Lord is our strength, especially in the most difficult times, and we can be thankful because God remains sovereign and he alone remains as God! Surely with such convictions, the peace of Christ will guard our heart and mind so that we carry with us a posture of calm and restedness in the midst of a restless, frenzied, competitive and very busy world.
Rev Lee Kien Seng
December 6, 2020