“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
“And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Today, I went to watch a performance of Handel’s Messiah, an epic masterpiece that is frequently performed during the seasons of Advent and Easter as a celebration of the story of Jesus. While listening to it, I had a realization that the way that I had previously understood the Advent was missing a significant portion of the gospel message.
I grew up in a church that strongly emphasized the Nativity – every year the largest event of the Advent season would be the Christmas skit, which the church kids would perform of the Nativity while reading Isaiah 7, Isaiah 9, and Luke 1-2, the passages about Jesus’ birth and future role. In other words, we celebrated the first advent of Jesus in our Christmas celebrations (to use the meaning of the lower-case advent, meaning arrival). That led me to associate Advent with the Nativity and Christmas celebrations. But there is another “advent” that is just as relevant (and perhaps more relevant to us today): and that is the second advent of Christ, when he returns again to judge the world, and bring about the final form of his kingdom of heaven.
What I was reminded of today as I listened to the Messiah was how much of it was dedicated to celebrating the victory of Christ. Out of 53 movements, only the first 32 are about the expectation for the Messiah, and the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. The last 21 movements are about the final victory over sin and death, the proclamation of the good news, and the implications of this victory for God’s people and God’s glory.
In the first reading and Gospel reading for today, messages about the “first and second advents” of Christ are spoken to us from the Lord. In the Jeremiah passage, the prophet Jeremiah conveys God’s promise to his people to raise up the Messiah – who will save them, execute justice and righteousness in their midst, and ultimately, as their Lord, become their righteousness. This is mostly referring to the first advent, of Jesus’s coming as Savior.
But we live in a period of “already and not yet” – the justice and righteousness of God’s kingdom, although demonstrated on the cross, has not come in its fullness. After Jesus came to earth, fulfilling the prophecies spoken about him (for example, the Jeremiah passage represents one such prophecy), he taught that he would go somewhere where his disciples could not follow, i.e. heaven (John 13:36), in order to prepare a place for them there (John 14:2). Following his resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1), and Christians are waiting for the day he comes again to bring the final and complete fulfillment of justice and righteousness.
And what the Gospel passage in Luke is referring to is this second advent – Jesus coming again to earth to bring the fullness of his kingdom.
What should believers do when waiting for this second advent of Jesus? First, he warns of being ready for that terrifying day when God calls all the people of the earth into account for their deeds. Jesus tells us to watch ourselves, staying vigilant to not be weighed down with drunkenness or cares, and to pray for strength to escape the coming tribulation. But he also tells his followers to straighten up and raise their heads in anticipation of the redemption that he brings.
In celebrating this Advent season, let us not make my mistake, and only consider the Nativity when thinking about Advent. Certainly the first coming of Jesus was crucial to the cosmic story of God’s redemption and victory for humanity. But as those who live after the time of Christ’s ascension to heaven, our celebration of Christ’s first advent is in light of our expectation for his second. Yes, Advent is a season of waiting and expectation – but no longer do Christians long for the Messiah to come and take away sins, for Jesus has already done that through his death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection. Instead, we are waiting for the arrival of the kingdom of God: for the day when our sinful nature completely falls away, and we are able to fully desire God with all of our undivided being; for the day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. We wait for the new heavens and the new earth, and for life eternal when we shall see God face to face, and shall know him even as we have been fully known.
In the Advent season, we have the opportunity to reflect and position ourselves rightfully in light of the second coming of our King. We remind ourselves that he said that the time is very short, and zealously seek to rid ourselves of our sin and turn towards seeking God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We think of him continually every day, seeking to please him, our Bridegroom and Lover of our souls, showing his love to others and glorifying our Maker in so doing. We share the good news of the eternal life promised to all those believe in Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross and lovingly surrender their whole lives to loving him and the world.
It really struck me that in his Messiah, Handel chose to include both prophecies that anticipate Christ’s coming and victory, and songs of praise for all that he has accomplished in salvation for humanity. In the time of Advent, then, let us remember both of the two advents – giving thanks to God for what he has done for us in Jesus’ first coming, as well as looking forward to the glorious kingdom that he will bring with his second coming.
Allen Lai ’20 is a Chemistry and Physics concentrator in Quincy.