The word “waiting” describes what most of us have felt in 2020. From weddings to travel, it seems that our lives have been put on hold either waiting for something to end or waiting for the other shoe to drop. If that describes you, maybe you are waiting for change in 2021.
Waiting is all about the passing of time; it is our impatience that that makes waiting difficult. We wait hoping for changes that will allow us to move forward. In 2020 we have been waiting for the end of the elections and the current pandemic; we are waiting for changes in the social unrest and in the economy. It seems impossible to move forward as long as we are in a holding pattern. We wait anticipating an end to the uncertainty.
In the Christian church calendar, Advent is the season of waiting that starts this Sunday. Advent is simply the Latin word for “coming.” It is the season of preparation as we wait for and anticipate the fulfillment of the promises of God revealed in Christ’s birth. While Christmas is often thought to be the culmination of our Advent celebrations, it is only the beginning.
In considering Advent, Philip H. Pfatteicher writes, "since the time of Bernard of Clairvaux (d.1153), Christians have spoken of the three comings of Christ: in the flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily, and in glory at the end of time". Limiting our Advent remembrances to merely the days prior to Christmas risks our missing the whole reason that Christ was born.
Advent calls us to consider not only what God has done in the past, but also what he is doing today and what he will do in the future. As Pfatteicher suggests, Christ’s birth is just the beginning of the message of Christ. Everyone loves the baby in the manger, but it is not the manger that saves us, it is not the birth of a baby that reconciled us to God. We celebrate Christ’s birth remembering that he came to “save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
The advent story that begins in the manger with Christ’s birth leads us to the cross where we celebrate the advent of new life today. The reality is that, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners… God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:6, 8) Advent celebrates how Christ promised to come into our hearts to bring us salvation.
Yet, there is still one more Advent that we are waiting for; this third focus of advent is called the “Second Advent of Christ.” It is called Christ’s second advent as it marks his second coming. For the Christian, this is the greatest Advent hope of all.
The Second Advent of Christ, like the other two for it involves a birth. Where the first advent remembers Jesus’ birth and the second celebrates our being born again, at the Second Advent of Christ we look forward to the birth of a new heavens and a new earth. “For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.” (Romans 8:19-21) It is in the second advent that we will realize our eternal hope, the glorious freedom from death and decay that is promised.
At Advent we remember the promise spoken by the angels to the shepherds, “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:11) Advent draws our minds and hearts to our real hope in this life, to the savior who gives us new life today and eternal life when he comes again.
Finally, there is a promise given to those who are waiting. “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you” (Isaiah 26:3). If we will trust in God, fix our thoughts on Him (not our circumstances, our plans, or our disappointments), He will keep us in His perfect peace. This Advent remember what God has done for us in Christ; in his birth, in giving us new life today and in the eternal glorious freedom promised to those who believe when Christ returns.