In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge needed to be visited by the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future before he finally came to fully appreciate what Christmas was all about. In a similar vein, it is important for today’s Christians to acknowledge Advent in it’s past, present, and future contexts in order to fully appreciate what Advent is all about.
Advent, which means “the coming of Christ”, marks the beginning of the new church year. During the season of Advent, churches around the world will be preparing to celebrate the incarnation: the conception and birth of Jesus Christ. Children’s pageants, choral anthems, and Advent carols will be practiced and performed. Advent wreaths will be lighted with each week representing a part of the nativity story or themes such as “hope, joy, peace and love” or “prophets, angels, shepherds and Bethlehem”. Scriptures, will be read that speak of angels, the virginal conception, the journey to Bethlehem, the trembling shepherds and the heavenly host (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2). It is, for most Christians, a lovely and nostalgic time of year. It is right to begin the church year with the celebration of “Advent Past” as we gather together to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Come Lord Jesus.
However, if we stop there, we are definitely missing the bigger picture. There are really three Advents: past, present, and future. We must ask ourselves why we celebrate “Advent Past”. Why did the Son of God humble Himself and choose to be born, fully human and fully God, into such a lowly estate? Jesus chose to be born for the purpose of dying for us. He chose to leave all that was perfect, holy, and glorious and enter into this world filled with sin and suffering so that He could die for you. Through the cross of Christ, God has given us salvation. Death for Jesus means life for you.
Through the cross, Jesus has given us Himself. And, this brings us to “Advent Present”. Knowing that Advent means “the coming of Christ”, “Advent Present” is our current expectation of the Lord coming to us through the sacraments. When we present someone for Holy Baptism, we do so with the eager expectation that the Lord will come to us and free the one being baptized from sin, death, and the devil. Come Lord Jesus.
Every single time we come forward to the Lord’s Table, we are also experiencing Advent. As we walk forward to the altar, we are announcing to those around us that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We move toward the altar in the eager expectation that Jesus Christ is coming to us, that He will be truly and fully present in the bread and wine we are about to receive, and that we will be blessed with His continued forgiveness as we cling to the new life and salvation that Jesus has so clearly promised to us. Come Lord Jesus. When we receive His body and His blood, we are proclaiming Christ’s death until He returns again (1 Cor. 11:26).
And that brings us to “Advent Future”, namely that we are eagerly awaiting the second coming of Christ also known as the Parousia, the arrival of the eschaton (the end of the world as we know it). When Christ returns, it will be the end of all sin, death, and evil. Forever. While not always considered an Advent text, Rev. 19:11-21 is actually a most fitting text as it describes Christ as our Divine Warrior, as the very Word of God, defeating all that oppose Him and the people He loves. Make no mistake. Those who believe are saved through the cross – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to salvation. Rev. 19:11-22 makes it abundantly clear that there is no other choice. There is no middle ground. There are only two sides in the final battle. One is either with Christ or against Him (Matt. 12:40).
However, clearly evil still abounds in our world today. God’s children still suffer. We suffer because creation is fallen and we experience sickness, death, and even suffering at the hands of evil in the world around us. But one day, sin, death and all forms of suffering will come to an end as the saints of God are gathered together to see the very breath of Jesus, our resurrected and living Lord, wipe out all that is evil, all that causes sin, suffering, and death for all of eternity. We eagerly await this “Advent Future”, the day when our Lord Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes; when there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will pass away (Rev. 21:4). God will create a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1;4) and this world will be filled with the light and peace that comes from our Lord. Come Lord Jesus.
Let us joyfully embrace this Advent season. But let us do so with the full appreciation that as we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, we do so believing that Christ is making all things new (Rev. 21:5). This began with the first Advent, the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This “Advent Past” served the purpose of laying the foundation for the “Advent Present” where we continuously receive our Lord and the gifts of grace He so lovingly gives through the sacraments. “Advent Present” builds on the foundation of “Advent Past” as believers now eagerly look forward to “Advent Future” the return of our Lord Jesus Christ so that we may spend eternity with Him and all His children in a perfect, holy, and glorious eternity. Come Lord Jesus.