During the season of Advent we often take the opportunity to ask ourselves just what sort of a coming we are really expecting – if indeed we expect anything at all. I realize that Advent is usually considered a time of preparation for Christmas. But we’re so busy with all the external preparations that the resultant stress even threatens our health. There are more than a few of us who, chased like hunted animals by dates, duties and expectations, have only one wish: to get this time behind them as quickly as possible.
This may seem a bit over-dramatic. But Advent is in fact a dramatic time because our bustle is not the sole source of stress. In the Christian and Christianized world there is no comparable period in which people’s emotions are so churned up. Longings and desires become overpowering and it has been proven that depression increases prior to Christmas. It is a season of mostly subconscious uncertainties about belonging, home and family. Loneliness and homelessness can become a crushing void, an abyss of being lost. The massive increase in illnesses related to depression before Christmas declares an indisputable message.
Longing for a home
These terms are not empty clichés. In our culture there is hardly anything sadder than someone who has no place of fellowship, belonging, acceptance or security on Christmas Eve. The longing for a home and security is an existential need. Not by coincidence is it so overpowering on the Eve of Christmas, for the mystery is that we celebrate the birth and arrival of the one who came to lead us out of the abyss of homelessness, being lost and darkness. He came to bring us back to our eternal home.
In the Bible we read that Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He came to lead us out of darkness into light, out of bondage into freedom, out of death into life. He will bring those who entrust themselves to him, who give their life into his hands, to the place of which we read, “Now the dwelling of God is with men” (Rev. 21:3-5). This describes the ultimate home-coming, “no suffering, no pain and no crying, no tears…” Who would not long for this! It sounds like a utopian, unrealistic dream. But God, who knows our lack of faith and imagination, reassures us precisely, “These words are trustworthy and true” (verse 5)!
Whoever comes through the narrow gate of faith to Jesus’ cross experiences life and the kingdom of God breaking powerfully into this world’s valley of death. “Light shines in the darkness.” Jesus’ cross became the heavenly ladder on which God descended to men in order to lead them home to himself. There Jesus opened the door wide and he is still challenging us through his disciples to set out for that place.
Jesus himself returned to the father with a very concrete intention. In John 14:1-3, he said that he would prepare dwellings for us with the father; he said he would prepare a home from which he would return to bring us home, so that we could always be where he is. Paul, who through grace was allowed to look into heaven, said of this home, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard…” (1 Cor. 2:9). The home with God surpasses all human power to imagine its beauty, security, peace and joy.
Is this an unrealistic utopia, a desperate projection of our longings and desires? No, not if we believe God’s word. If we believe that Jesus’ promises are God’s word (and it is appropriate if we do so!), we can wait for the fulfilment of this promise with absolute certainty and confidence. For we read of God, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19).
The greatest coming event
This is not a matter of empty promises for the coming world, but of the question: What is my position regarding the greatest event which mankind will soon experience? Namely that Jesus, the Son of God, to whom the Father had subjected all things (John 13:3), will return to get his bride, the church; that he is coming to demonstrate his reign over his people Israel and over all people once and for all! Do I believe that this will take place as promised? Do I expect Jesus to come back as the judge of the old creation (John 5:21-24) and as lord of the new creation? If so, how do I expect him back: what is my attitude?
We must ask ourselves this question especially during Advent, the season in which we consciously wait for Jesus’ return. In many places it is a tradition to light an additional candle every Sunday during Advent. Light is a symbol for God’s presence, for hope, peace and joy. Therefore Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” By lighting an Advent candle we testify that we hope and wait for the return of the Messiah Jesus and thus for the completion and coming of God’s eternal kingdom.
When we lose our vision and our joyful hope through circumstances, shocks, short-sightedness and lethargy, we must determinedly get up again and return to God’s promises. This will renew and strengthen our vision, our hope and our joyful expectancy of what is coming. If we lose our vision for the coming kingdom of God we will easily lose sight of the present kingdom of God, as well. “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).
God fulfills his word
Of course, someone might say, “Well, we can’t really take this story about Jesus’ return so literally.” I know many people who interpret this figuratively. For all those who are not quite certain or who find it hard to believe that Jesus will return, I want to assure you that it will be similar to the founding of the nation of Israel. In spite of all human reason and estimations, in spite of world resistance throughout millennia, God has fulfilled the promises he gave to the Jewish people thousands of years ago. Who would have thought, 70 or 80 years ago, that very soon everybody would speak about a nation of Israel, as it is today?
God promised to gather his people and make them a nation again. And he did it! One can fight against this fact; one can dislike the Jewish people or question aspects of their behaviour. But the nation exists because God promised Israels restoration. And just as God fulfilled his word regarding Israel’s restoration, so he will also fulfill his word in relation to Jesus’ return. God does not use empty words. We can rest assured of this.
Actually it is an exceedingly good message – that God uses no empty words. If he promised us something, then he really means it just as he said it. In relation to the coming of the Messiah, God’s word tells us, “‘See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness” (Mal. 3:1-3).
Malachi 3:1-3 is a message to the Jewish people, but it is likewise a message to the body of Christ. I will not speak about the message to the Jewish people as a nation, but rather about the message I believe God is giving to his church, the bride of Christ. This bride consists of Jews and non-Jews, all the people in the whole world who believe in Jesus. Peter said of them, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” (1 Peter 2:9).
In Rev. 19:7-8 this royal priesthood is also called the bride of Christ. Why is the church called a bride? The terms bride and bridegroom express a very intimate relationship of the heart. The message is for the bride who is waiting for the bridegroom. What could a truly loving bride, who has given her heart to her bridegroom, desire more than unlimited togetherness with the one she loves?