Back in the day some graffiti appeared on the wall of a certain theological college in south London. It read as follows: ‘Jesus said to them, “Who do you say that I am?” They replied, “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, in which kerygma we find the ultimate meaning of our interpersonal relationships!” And Jesus responded: “Do what?”’
Advent is that season at the beginning of the Christian Year when traditionally the Church prepares itself for ‘Christmas’ or ‘Christ’s Mass’ – the annual celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. In this birth, we see God revealing himself to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. Not in the ‘eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being’ but in human form as a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. In that sense, he is the God who has already come … yet the Bible also speaks of him as the God who still comes to us today … and the God who is yet to come again at the end time to wrap everything up once and for all!
Advent celebrates the God who came! When Jesus commenced his public ministry at age 30 his cousin John the Baptist, who had initially pointed others to Jesus as the Promised Messiah, became doubtful and asked Jesus, ‘Are you indeed the One who was to come or should we expect another?’ (Luke 7:19). We can perhaps forgive John’s rather pathetic query … he was after all, at that time, in prison, in darkness, awaiting execution so no wonder he was assailed by doubt. Jesus’ response to those who brought John’s message to him was, ‘Go back and tell John all you have seen and heard [that I have done]: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, dead people are raised to life, and the Good News is peached to the poor’ (Luke 7:22). The Advent Narrative reminds us that Jesus is indeed the God who came amongst us in human form!
Advent celebrates the God who is to come! When Jesus came the first time it was to be born in a manger and die on a cross to save us all from the power of Satan, sin, death, and an empty or wasted way of life. The Apostle Peter tells us that Jesus ‘bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live righteous lives … he suffered once and for all for sin – the righteous for the unrighteous – to bring us to God’ (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). In the Old Testament, there are 353 verses foretelling the First Coming of Christ … coming as Messiah, coming as Saviour. Indeed, prior to his birth, an angel appeared to Joseph and foretold that the child who would be born to Mary would be special. He would bear two names – ‘Immanuel’ (meaning God with us)’ and ‘Jesus’ (because he will save his people from their sins) (Matthew 1:21,23). But throughout the whole Bible there are eight times that number of verses foretelling a Second Coming of Christ! When Jesus returns the second time, however, it will not be to be born in a manger of die on a cross … but as ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Revelation 19:16) … coming to judge the living and the dead and take those who are his to be with him in Glory!
Advent celebrates the God who comes to us today! Perhaps the most wonderful thing, however, about the Advent Narrative – and something which makes the Good News of the Gospel so personal to us all – is that God still comes to us today in the Person of Jesus Christ. One of the greatest exponents of the Gospel was the Apostle Paul. Speaking to the Galatians about the message he proclaimed he says: ‘I want you to know that the Gospel I proclaim did not come from any human source … it came to me by direct revelation of Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 1:11,12). Paul became a Christian as a direct result of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ on Damascus Road. You can read the whole story in Acts 9. The point I am seeking to make here is that the Advent Narrative celebrates a God who comes to us in Jesus Christ today. Paul (as far as we know) never met Jesus Christ ‘in the flesh’ (so to speak). But here (as in Acts 9) he speaks of personal spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ. This is what he himself experienced, and this is what he wants the Galatians, and everyone else for that matter, to experience also. He is telling us that God (through the agency of his Spirit) still comes to us today in the Person of Jesus Christ!
Leonard Griffith tells a remarkable story about a young doctor who had been ill for a long time. Physically he seemed to have recovered, but emotionally he remained in a slough of depression, and nothing could shake him out of it. He displayed no interest in his work, refused to see his friends, and just stayed at home all day brooding.
His wife, who loved him dearly, fearful of what this would eventually mean to his career and to their marriage, did everything within her power to help him … all to no avail! Finally, in desperation, she devised a scheme. Would he go to church with her on Christmas Eve? The church would be deserted save for the organist playing soft music, and a distinguished actor who would step quietly into the gallery and recite the familiar Christmas Story from the Gospel of Luke. All of this she had arranged unknown to her husband. To her surprise, he agreed. He would go to the church by himself and wait for her there.
The doctor found it very peaceful sitting alone in the sacred silence … a silence suddenly broken by a cultured voice reciting verses, not from Luke but from the Gospel of John: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and to those who received him, he gave power to become the children of God …’ Something happened to the young doctor as the words and music faded away. It was as though an evil spell had been broken. As though a healing and liberating influence had come into his life.
At the door of the church the doctor met his wife and took her into his arms. His incredulous wife who had just received an apologetic note from the distinguished actor to say that he would not be able to come to the church that evening!