The following is part one of a three-part series on Advent. This series is for the adult Sunday School class at Pioneer Bible Church.
We are in the season of Advent. I used to view Advent simply as the time leading up to Christmas. Advent is the time every year that we study Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2. We meditate on John 1:14 about the Word becoming human. We focus on the incarnation.
However, two years ago I spent several weeks talking to two pastor friends about Advent as a Christian festival. Historically, Advent is the time that Christians have traditionally set aside to think of Jesus’ two appearances.
Advent means “coming.” So, when we talk about Jesus’ first advent, we are referring to His first coming to earth. When we speak of His second advent, we are referring to the time He will return to the earth and make all things new (Revelation 19-22). This is what Titus 2:11-14 is about. The grace of God appeared at Jesus’ first advent when He gave Himself to purchase us from sin. We look back to the first advent. However, we are to be looking forward to the second advent, the happy confidence of Jesus’ second appearing.
For the next three weeks, we will take time to reflect on the Advent season. It is important to say that Advent is a tradition. It is not ordained in the Bible. Jesus nowhere commands His people to celebrate a season called Advent. We are commanded to live in consideration of Jesus’ two advents, but we are not commanded to set aside a specific season for celebrating them (1 Corinthians 11:26; Titus 2:13). Interestingly, we are not even commanded to remember Christmas as a holiday. However, these are not bad traditions. It is good to set aside time to remember and to look ahead.
So, we will take time to remember Jesus’ first advent and look ahead to His second advent in this series.
The themes I would like for us to reflect on in this advent season are not our normal Christmas meditations. Instead, I would like for us to reflect on some often-overlooked themes. Darkness, death, exile, and longing are good themes for Advent. These are the themes that have been traditionally reflected on by the Church at Advent. By the time we finish our short series, I believe you will agree that they are fitting for the occasion.
We will not leave this study in hopelessness, because all along the way we will reflect on Jesus. Jesus is the light of the world that pierces through the darkness (John 1:5). He is the light of the world who rescues those who follow Him from walking in the darkness (John 8:12, 12:46). He is the One who defeated death by dying the death we deserve to die and rising again the third day. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). He gives eternal life to all the Father has given to Him (John 3:16, 3:36, 17:2). He is the one we watch for with expectation, longing, joy, and at the same time hopeful sorrow. We watch expectantly to welcome Him and to be welcomed by Him (Titus 2:13).
Let’s start our Advent reflections all the way back at the beginning of time. Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” As you read throughout Genesis 1 you find that all God made was good (Genesis 1:4 ,10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). He made the heavens and earth, and He filled them with creatures. The final piece of His creation was the crown – Mankind. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Mankind was created in God’s image. Male and female were created to reflect Him and glorify Him. God gave mankind dominion over the creation (Genesis 1:26-28). Man was created to rule over the creation with God. Psalm 8 puts this to poetry, if you would like to reflect on it.
God created the heavens and the earth to serve as mankind’s home. He also created this world to serve as a place where He and man would dwell together. We see this in Genesis 1-3. God spoke with Adam and Eve. God even came to walk with them in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). God spoke with Adam, giving him instructions for ruling over the earth. He also gave His gracious warning not to eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden. He warned Adam that eating it would bring death (Genesis 2:16-17).
However, Adam and Eve doubted God and rebelled against Him. They ate the fruit of the tree. They chose rebellion. They gained experiential knowledge of evil. They knew what it was to go their own way. They turned from God who is the source and sustainer of life, and they died.
Eternal life is to know God (John 17:3), and they became His enemies. This brought immediate and ongoing consequences. Adam and Eve knew shame in their nakedness (compare Genesis 2:25 and 3:7). They had to hide from God; they were separated from Him (Genesis 3:8-10). They would experience pain, suffering, hard labor, relationship battles, and death (Genesis 3:16-19). They were also banished from God’s presence (Genesis 3:22-24). They were cut off from the life of God. Sin brought death.
This has been our condition ever since that time. “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5b). Yet, humanity is dead in trespasses and sins, going our own way, walking in darkness, so we are separated from Him (Ephesians 2:1-3; Isaiah 53:6; 1 John 1:6).
Mankind is in continual exile. We live in the banishment of our first parents. We long for God because He has placed eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Yet, we try to fill this longing with idols. We are born in bondage to Satan, trapped in his domain of darkness, blinded to our deadly condition (Colossians 1:13; 2 Corinthians 4:4). Humanity is doomed to die, because we are sinful dust and will return to dust (Genesis 3:19; Romans 6:23a). In sin we cannot live with God; we walk in darkness, and He is perfect light (1 John 1:5). This is the effect of sin.
The children of Israel were feeling the effects of sin as the time of Jesus’ first advent approached. They had been exiled in Babylon for their rebellion against God. They had returned home, and it was an embarrassment. It was nothing like the former days. It was nothing like the ultimate promises God made about David’s descendant ruling over a new creation (2 Samuel 7:14; Isaiah 65-66; Jeremiah 23:5-6). They were exiles in their own land. Their land was a proverbial soccer ball being kicked around amongst the nations. The Old Testament ends without the coming of the promised King.
In the days of Jesus’ first coming the Roman Empire had control. The murderous Herod was the ruler over their land. This was nothing like the safety God promised them under Messiah’s rule. There was darkness, exile, and longing.
Simeon and Anna in Luke 2:25-38 are prime examples for us of waiting and longing. They waited a long time to see the consolation and redemption of Israel.
“O Come, O Come Immanuel” really captures the sorrow of Israel with these words in verse 1:
O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
We, God’s new covenant people, are also waiting. Messiah Jesus has come. Yet, He has gone back to heaven. He has promised that He will come in the same way that He left (Acts 1:11). Where is He? We wait.
We wait in a hostile environment. We see the hopelessness of our world. We see the fruit of sin in the world around us and in ourselves. We see rioting, murders, sex trafficking, drug abuse, lying, theft, slander, political upheaval, storms, viruses, earthquakes, volcanoes. We feel the aching in our bodies, the symptoms of sickness, the effects of age, the sorrows of broken relationships, our ongoing battle with personal sin, the death of our loved ones. We suffer depression. We see the persecution of God’s people in various places around the world. We see growing animosity to the God of the Bible in our own culture. All of this is a constant reminder that the world is not right. It is broken. Sin has brought disaster and destruction ending in death and more destruction. We are in exile. We are not Home, yet.
However, the darkness of this world makes “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” shine all the brighter (2 Corinthians 4:4b). The Word of God tells us that God had a plan before time began to give rescue from sin (Titus 1:1-3). When Adam and Eve sinned, there was a promise that the seed of a woman would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). God has a plan to unite all things in Christ and make the creation new (Ephesians 1:11; Revelation 21:1-8). He has a plan to dwell with us, again, forever removing the pain of exile (Jeremiah 23:5-6; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Revelation 21:3). We will finally be Home. He will destroy darkness, death, sorrow, and pain (Revelation 21:4). He has promised this, and He will do it.
Jesus is God come as a man full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Jesus Christ is God with us (Matthew 1:23). Jesus Christ has appeared to bring deliverance from sin. He has died to purchase us for Himself (Titus 2:11-12, 14). As the author of Hebrews has said, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). He has risen again and has ascended with all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He reigns at the Father’s right hand until His enemies will be put under His feet (Psalm 110:1). He will someday return, and He will make all things new (2 Peter 3:9-13; Revelation 21:1-8).
So, we are left here as exiles. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ…” (Philippians 3:20). He has started His new creation work in us. “…if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We wait for God to fulfill His promise of a new heavens and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13). We wait “…for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (Titus 2:13). We wait like Simeon and Anna for our consolation and final redemption, trusting that the Lord is not slow to keep His promises (2 Peter 3:9).
Jesus has promised: “Surely, I am coming soon.” We join the Apostle John and say, “Amen, come Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).
May we experience true longing for this day as we reflect in this Advent season. Amen.