Not many worship services stick out in my mind, but I remember one from my freshman year of college. My church had been reading through the Bible in a year, with the pastor preaching each Sunday on a passage from that week’s reading and telling the story of redemptive history throughout the year.
I remember the Sunday that we made the jump from the Old to New Testament. Our worship pastor reminded us that God had been silent for 400 years between the last prophets of the Old Testament and the angel appearing to Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father. Israel, who had been given all the promises and blessings as God’s chosen people, longed for the day that those promises would be fulfilled and God would send his Messiah. It was in the midst of that longing that Jesus was born.
To help us grasp the expectant longing of Israel, the worship pastor led us in 400 seconds of silence, representing the silence of God for 400 years. As the time of silence drew to a close, a soloist sang,
“Come thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”
It was that worship service that taught me the spiritual practice of hopeful longing. Just as the Israelites, God’s chosen people, longed for the first coming of Christ, Christians today, who have been grafted in as God’s children, long for the second coming of Christ. That is why our celebration of Advent is not only remembering the past but also hoping for our future.
Advent simply means “coming.” In church tradition, the season of Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas and represents at time of expectant waiting and preparation for Christ’s birth. While the formal tradition of Advent wreaths, candles, and calendars may not have been a part of your Christmas tradition in the past, its message of hopeful longing is one that every Christian should let infiltrate their hearts during the Christmas season.
What are we longing for? Peter says that we were saved to a living hope—the assurance that because of Christ’s resurrection, we will also be resurrected “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:4-5). It is this hope of resurrection that sustains us when we face trials, even the trials we may face during the Christmas season.
Paul tells us that we’re not the only ones who are longing for Christ’s return; even the creation is longing to be set free from the curse of sin. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved” (Romans 8:23-24a). See that word again—hope. During Advent, our joy that Christ came as a baby causes us to hope for when he comes again as our King.
While we have already been saved from consequences of sin, we are waiting for the day that God’s Kingdom is consummated, and we are freed from the presence of sin. Isaiah describes the churches hopeful waiting in this way, “It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation’” (Isaiah 25:9). While Christ fulfilled some of Isaiah’s prophecies when he was born in Bethlehem, we wait for the complete fulfillment in his return.
But we don’t like waiting. We don’t want to put our hope in what we cannot see. We would rather hope in earthly love, material possessions, and other things that we can physically hold at Christmas time. Yet these distractions do not last. They will be thrown out just like the Christmas tree come January 1. Torn wrapping paper will fill garbage bags. New toys will break, and new clothes will wear out. But our hope in Jesus’ promise to return will last, and we will obtain “the outcome of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] souls” (1 Peter 1:9).
I encourage you this Christmas season to not only rejoice in Christ’s coming as a baby but hope in his coming as King. Don’t stop your worship in the first verses of Christmas hymns but praise in him those last verses which point to the second coming.
“Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
By thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.”
With this hymn ringing in our ears this Advent season, let us pray for the second Advent with those final words in Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”