When I was a teenager, I was an acolyte (altar boy) in the Episcopal Church. One Sunday during Advent it was my duty to stand next to the priest with a burning taper to light a candle on our Advent Wreath. While waiting nervously for my “cue” to light the candle, I sighed deeply to relieve the tension.
I was shocked when my sigh blew out the taper!
After relighting the taper and hurrying back to the wreath, I lit the candle for my now increasingly uncomfortable audience, and the rest of the service went on without incident.
This Sunday will be the final Sunday in the 2020 Advent season – now far removed from my teenage Advent disaster. “Advent” comes from an old English word meaning an “approach” or “arrival” and is used to denote the four Sundays anticipating Christmas. It serves as a way of focusing our awareness on the Christ of Christmas. It also provides a mental picture of the fervent hope held by the ancient people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah.
After a millennium and a half of almost non-stop national enslavement under the Egyptians, hostile neighbors, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Hellenists, and then – the Romans – anticipation for the advent of the Messiah was at a fever pitch in Israel by the time Jesus was born. Instead of things getting better – they were getting worse – and Rome’s jackboot was only pressing down harder and harder. It seemed as if their hope was going to be, like the taper in my Advent adventure, snuffed out.
But God knew what He was doing and, as Paul tells us in Galatians 4:4 – 5, Christ was born in the “fullness of time.” In other words. He came at just the right time, in the right way (born of a woman, under the law), for the right purpose (to redeem those under the law through His cross). I am sure, if a vote had been taken, Israel would have voted for an earlier time, a more aggressive way (a military leader), and a different purpose (the overthrow of the tyranny of the Romans.)
But there was no vote and, although some tried, nobody could stop Him.
But that was only the first advent of Christ. There is another advent approaching. Like the first, he will arrive just in time (Ephesians 1: 7-10). Also, His coming will be totally unexpected – like a thief in the night (Matthew 24:44.)
And, still, no one will be able to stop Him.
Unlike the first advent – He will come as the “Son of Man,” the King of Israel – in the clouds of heaven with great glory (Matthew 24:30,31; Mark 13:24-31). The Bible tells us that every eye will see Him – and most will not be happy about it (Revelation 1:7). His purpose in coming will also be different – He will not come this time to serve, but to rule. He will not come to die – but to raise the dead.
There are a lot of details in Scripture on what this will look like. There is also a lot of disagreement on how it will all work out. But one thing we of which we all can be sure: there will be a second advent of Jesus, the Messiah.
As Christians in the West, we are living under a tyranny that is growing day by day. Its scope is widening and threatens to overwhelm us. It a soft tyranny, full of soft platitudes more persuasive than the jackboot, that promise “safety” and “equality” while requiring a lop-sided form of “tolerance.”
The 1st century Christians, living under the threat of hungry lions and burning stakes, found their strength in the hope of the second advent of Christ. As Christians in the 21st century, living under the threat of being “cancelled,” fired, or shunned, we can find strength in the same. However, like my advent mishap many years ago, that hope can be snuffed out under the heavy breath of our modern culture. Through our mobile devices, the constant barrage of media, and the increasing pressure of a political false “science” from every corner, it is very easy to lose sight of this vital truth. The apostle Peter’s command to the Christians scattered throughout the “heathen” (read: “secular”) world shows us a path for today:
Wherefore girding up the loins of your mind, be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as children of obedience, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in the time of your ignorance: but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy.
1 Peter 1:13-16 (ESV)
This does not mean that we need to live as a hermit on a mountain, but as foreigners in a hostile culture. We must put a tight rein on our minds because our minds are the gateway to our hearts, and how we feed our hearts will determine how brightly that blessed hope will burn in these dark times. Remember, man shall not live by bread alone – but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4). We must center our lives on reading, digesting, really believing, and living out His Word now, more than ever before.
As we finish this crazy year of 2020 with the Advent season, and look toward 2021 don’t let your blessed hope be snuffed out – there is another Advent coming!