I’m not an Anglican, although there is much that I appreciate from my Anglican roots.
Some examples are…the heritage, the rich tradition of orthodox, apostolic faith, the liturgical prayers, which taught me evangelical theology from a young age, and the church calendar.
Yes, you read correctly, the church calendar. It’s a wonderful pattern of organising the church year around key gospel events. Christmas. Epiphany. Lent. Easter. Ascension. Pentecost.
And Advent…or literally, ‘Coming’.
Growing up, Advent for me always meant Advent calendars. Each evening I would carefully and deliberately fold open a perforated window on my Advent calendar, taking me a day closer to Christmas. Days were marked off, one by one, and in this way Christmas crept agonisingly slowly closer. And twenty-five days was a long time to wait for a young child.
But as I’ve gotten older, Advent has come to mean so much more. I like it because it looks back.
Advent draws me into the drama of the first Christmas story…the drama of the Jewish people who had been waiting hundreds of years for God to fulfil His promises. Promises to send a King. A Messiah. A Saviour. Promises that remained unfulfilled.
A succession of foreign oppressors; four hundred years with no prophetic voice; and Roman occupation bringing a daily reminder that they were not a free people…all combined together to remind them that they were still waiting for God’s King to come.
How long must they wait for God’s Promised One? Matthew conveys this sense of anticipation…this sense that the promise was about to be fulfilled by beginning his gospel with the genealogies (Matthew 1). Luke weaves in this sense of longing by introducing us to Simeon and Anna who we’re told were waiting for “the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25, 38). John tells us “the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9).
The gospels are clear about this sense of Advent.
As Advent draws me back to reflect on the first coming of Christ two thousand or so years ago I sense the conflicting and confusing emotions. The yearning, the hope, the anticipation. But also the impatient frustration, the doubt, the questioning.
The question of that first Advent was answered once and for all by the declaration of the angels to the shepherds – “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
The Christ had come.
But Advent also looks forward.
In remembering God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises to send a King…a Saviour, we also expectantly look forward to the day of Christ’s return…the day when His Kingdom will be ushered in once and for all. For we live in the in-between times. Yes, Jesus died. Yes, Jesus rose again. Yes, Satan was defeated at the cross, but until that day when Christ comes again we live in the frustration of the ‘now but not yet’. We look around and are conscious of signs of sin and decay. We understand what Paul means when he writes that creation is “groaning” as it waits to be liberated from the effects of sin (Romans 8:22).
We know Jesus’ words promising that “they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). We wait expectantly for the day that Paul said would come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). We long for the day that will welcome in that time when “there will be no more mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
So, just like God’s people two thousand years ago, we wait too. We live this side of that first coming, and long eagerly for his second coming.
And as we wait we pay heed to Peter, who wrote that while we wait we should “live holy and godly lives.” And that we should “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:11, 14).
But we also pray the words of John, “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)
So this Advent, as you prepare for Christmas, can I encourage you to take time to pause and to reflect. To enter into the Christmas story again. Allow the drama…the tension…of that first Christmas to lead you to marvel at God’s faithfulness. Let it also lead you to gaze longingly forward…to that day when Christ will come again. May a sense of joyful anticipation colour your Advent season. And may you recommit yourself to waiting…faithfully…prayerfully.
Come, Lord Jesus.