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Advent: Celebration and Anticipation

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This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, the four Sundays leading up to Christmas during which Christians look back with celebration on the first coming of Jesus, and look forward with anticipation to his second coming. We'll light a candle each Sunday (representing hope, joy, peace, and love), read Scriptures that expand on those themes, and hear messages from God's Word designed to equip us to worship well during this season.

I think for the most part we're much better at the celebrating than the anticipating. I grew up with songs, church plays, ornaments, and traditions that looked back with glad gratitude on the coming of Jesus into the world to bear our sins. This is right and good! God's boundless grace to sinners is on full display in the glory of the Incarnation (i.e, God-in-flesh). It is right for us to celebrate and give thanks for this. I want to lead my own family to thankfulness and praise at God's gift of his Son.

But that second aspect of Advent, for some reason - the looking forward part - doesn't come as naturally to us. The truth we are living in the middle of God's redemptive plan. 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem, God sent his Son into the world to bear the sins of his people, and on an unknown day in the future he will send his Son a second time "to judge the living and the dead," and to bring his people home forever. Where are we? That's right, in the in-between.

Jesus already came.

Jesus already paid for sins and rose again.

Jesus already ascended to heaven.

Jesus already inaugurated his Kingdom rule.

But he hasn't finished the story yet. We look forward with anticipation, knowing that...

Jesus will come again.

Jesus will judge the world in righteousness.

Jesus will create a new heaven and a new earth.

Jesus will bring all his people home with him.

Jesus will establish his forever Kingdom.

So here we are, living in the tension of the already/not-yet reality of God's Kingdom. It's begun, but it's not complete. Sin has been dealt with, but Satan still influences people toward bondage and darkness. We have a foretaste of the beauty, joy, and glory of God's Kingdom, but we haven't experienced it in full.

During this Advent season, let's not hesitate to look back to God's grace in the past, and give thanks and worship for the provision he's made for sinners to have eternal life through the ministry of Jesus on earth. But let's also work to keep our eyes turned upward, our hearts leaning forward, waiting in anticipation and longing eagerly for our Lord to appear once again, "not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Hebrews 9:28).