I am grateful that at New City we take time to dwell in the season of Advent. Many of us are unfamiliar with the traditional church calendar and the traditions that accompany it, and I’m thankful that we are learning to rehearse some of these rhythms of the faith. Advent in particular has been a sweet season of learning to treasure the coming of Christ and celebrate the miracle it is that God would come to dwell with us. Even the simple practice of talking about and planning for the four weeks preceding Christmas helps me to focus my attention on Immanuel and not the warm fuzzy feelings of the season.
Advent means “arrival.” So in this season we talk about, remember, and point to the arrival of the Messiah. We celebrate all month long that God stepped into human history, took on humanity, and walked among us. He entered into our brokenness, felt pain and want, disappointment and desire, was tempted and did not sin. God - the creator and sustainer of everything that is - humbled himself enough to become a baby. This is truly something to spend time pondering and celebrating.
This year, thinking about Advent has caused me to consider another piece of the story. Advent is certainly about celebrating the arrival of the Messiah, but it is also about waiting for him again. On this side of history, it can be difficult for us to imagine the thousands of years Israel spent waiting for the promised one. After Adam and Eve chose to go their own way and sin entered the world, God made a promise. After he gives his indictment to the serpent for bringing evil into his good world, God tells the serpent,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
From that day, God’s people would rehearse that promise. As the story of the creation of the world and it’s fall into sin was rehearsed and retold for generations, they would remember that promise. The seed of the woman - a human - would come and put an end to the evil and pain they had entered into and could not escape. It doesn’t take long to look around and see that our world is broken and in need of a savior.
The Bible doesn’t give us many timetables, but I think it is safe to say that Genesis 3 happened a long time before Matthew 1. Thousands of years passed. Abraham was called out by God and given another promise - that the promised One would come from his family (a family that didn’t exist yet) to be a blessing to the whole world:
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’” (Genesis 12:1-3)
Abraham’s family would grow and grow until it became the nation of Israel. They would become slaves in Egypt, multiplying even amid suffering and oppression, then be redeemed from their slavery and enter the land God had promised to them. After many years of waiting, the family of Abraham was a nation! God’s promises were coming true. But the world was still broken. The people God chose still hurt one another, hurt themselves, and hurt God’s good world. Evil had not been defeated. The Israelites rehearsed the promise of Genesis 3:15 again.
More years, more waiting, more remembering that God was going to send a human to crush the serpent’s head. A king was anointed - David - but he too gave in to the serpent and chose what was good in his own eyes. He was not the promised one. And yet, God reminded his people:
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13)
And so Israel waited. And waited. And waited.
Like Adam and Eve, Israel continued to choose their own way and not God’s. God’s judgement on their evil came and foreign nations took God’s people captive. Israel was in exile - strangers in a foreign land, living in the consequences of sin and death, longing for the promises of God to be realized and for healing to come to their land. Prophets called the people to repent, and again reminded them of God’s promise in Genesis 3.
Hundreds and hundreds of years went by. Eventually even the prophets went quiet. Israel waited - would the promised One ever come? Would God ever crush the evil and destruction we see and participate in every day? Or has he left us on our own?
They waited. Rehearsing the promises, telling the stories, singing the songs. Waiting.
And finally, Christmas. When no one saw it coming, a baby was born in Bethlehem. Fulfilling every prophecy more beautifully than they could have imagined, shattering expectations and surpassing them at the same time. Jesus. Immanuel. God with us.
We celebrate that in the season of Advent. But it’s not the end of the story. The story began with a promise, and it ends with one too.
Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the answer to Israel’s waiting, and the answer to our longings to heal the brokenness we see and feel in our world. But it is also a promise. That one day, the whole world will undergo a resurrection and new creation. God’s promise in Jesus is that he cares for his creation, he has paid the penalty for our destruction, and he will fully and finally redeem and restore his good world. Jesus is the guarantee that God has not left our world to deal with our sin and brokenness alone. His promise to us is that he will come again to make this world new and everyone who calls on his name will be rescued and restored.
So we wait. Advent is a season to remember, to celebrate, and also to practice. To step into the longing Israel felt as they waited for the promised One, and to feel that longing in our hearts. We spend weeks waiting for Christmas, singing the songs, reciting the promises in Scripture, and waiting. Looking back at what he has done and looking forward to what he has yet to do.
Christ has come. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.