A reflection by Colleen Peters
Advent …the coming of the Christ, a time of waiting, of expecting and anticipating the three-fold coming of Christ—past present, and future. It is the perspective of the past coming that perhaps gets the most coverage; the historical event of Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem, what is called the nativity. It is certainly the perspective that the secular world focuses on exclusively, and sadly distorts beyond truth. Between now and Christmas we wait, and prepare with great excitement, to celebrate the virgin birth of the Christ child, the enfleshment of God. And this is as it should be, as Christ’s birth is the still point in history.
But there is also the aspect of waiting and expecting the present coming of Christ in the communion of saints. His coming to us corporately through the members of the ecclesia, his body. And we also anticipate His coming to each of us who love and follow Him, in creative, at times comical, and often mysterious ways; ways Carlo Caretto may be alluding to when he speaks of God’s coming in this way:
God’s coming and his presence are his decision, based on his love freely poured out. His coming is bound to his promise, not to our works or virtue. We have not earned the meeting with God because we have heaped up such a pile of virtue as to shine before heaven. God is thrust onward by his love, not attracted by our beauty. He comes even in moments when we have done everything wrong, when we have done nothing, when we have sinned.
Simon Tugwell also points to God’s coming as being his initiative. It is always God who comes to us. “Very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from him, in high rebellion against Him. And he knows that and has taken it into account, He has followed us into our own darkness; where we thought finally to escape him, we run straight into His arms.”
It was this aspect of waiting and anticipating Christ’s daily coming that came into sharp focus for me eight years ago. The season of Advent took on new dimensions for me in 2004. The truth of the incarnation held my heart in a new and practical way. Immanuel, ‘God with us’, somehow came to mean ‘God with me.’ Just days before Christmas I underwent brain surgery as doctors tried to deal with a ‘foreign body’ that wasn’t supposed to be there. I had good reason to fear it would be my last Christmas with Len and the kids. At times the fear was suffocating, as days of waiting for biopsy results stretched into weeks. Yet beneath the fear was something I couldn’t explain… a peculiar peace that quelled the fear… an assurance that all would be well, come what may. Beyond a doubt I knew that God was in control of my chaos. And He was so kind to make certain I knew, deep inside of me where it mattered most, that I was loved. CS Lewis said, “when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”
In God’s loving mercy, I was spared the diagnosis of a brain tumour, and was eventually diagnosed three years later with progressive relapsing MS, a disease that has brought much change into my life, along with unexpected and bountiful blessings. Though the changes have been challenging and difficult in many ways, they have also been channels of God’s grace. Christ comes again and again…and delivers me. “When I falI I am not hurled headlong because the Lord is the One who holds my hand.” (Psalm 37) Though I live with the draining reality of a chronic and progressive illness, I live too, in a Kingdom reality that renews me. “So we do not lose heart, though our outer man is decaying… yet our inner man is being renewed day by day, producing for us an eternal weight of glory while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal .” (2 Cor. 4:16-18) The King has given me eyes to see the reality of Paul’s words and that has made all the difference.
It has given me hope that fashions faith from fear, hope that ‘springs eternal’ and lets me rest in His sweet sovereignty. The same hope that augmented the Advent season for me 8 years ago. It is the Pauline hope of Colossians 1:27: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Christ in you, Christ in me… this is cause for holy hope, as it was cause for Mary to rejoice and to hope and to exult in God her Saviour, when she heard Gabriel’s words “Hail, favoured one! The Lord is with you.” She was to bear the Christ-child within her own body. And in some way, we too are favoured ones, with the Christ-life in each of us.
Advent, a time that heralds the coming of the Christ, a time to remember and be glad that the Christ-life is in us, that we too are favoured and the Lord is with us.
And of course Advent also encompasses the anticipation of the second coming of Jesus Christ, when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Advent is a looking forward to the time when we shall see Jesus face to face, be that when he returns, or when he calls us Home. Either way, Advent is a time of anticipating what lies ahead. In an Advent sermon, Dietrich Bonhöffer said,
The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One Himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christian rejoice!
In his book Searching for God Knows What, Donald Miller ends the chapter entitled The Gospel of Jesus, by raising his glass in homage to Christ the King. The words he used to do so are simple yet strong. “Here is to Christ for making us, to Christ for rescuing us, and to Christ, who gives hope for tomorrow.” Amen.