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Western culture is incredibly defined by hurry and impatience. We want what we want and we want it right now. It’s the reason so many stores start putting their Christmas stuff out around Labor Day, because we can't wait for the succession of holidays to play their course. It's the same reason the month of December tends to be one of the most frantic months of the entire year, with shopping, decorations, lights and Christmas parties, one after the other.
Yet this Christmas season is a special time for those who follow Jesus Christ. Historically, the church has viewed this window from Thanksgiving to Christmas by a greater term known as Advent, a Latin term that simply means “coming” or “arrival.”
Many Western Protestant and nondenominational churches have missed out on the implications of Advent, but it’s a powerful way for us to see what it was like to be Israel of old, waiting for the Messiah to come. It’s an opportunity to rejoice in His arrival, to rejoice in the promises of God, and as we look back on that first advent, this season can also help us learn to wait for the second advent of Jesus’ return. These weeks can help kindle afresh our affections and our longing for Jesus Christ, far above the presents, far above the trees and the lighting, far above all the decorations, as we lift our hearts and our eyes upward to Christ that we might seek, savor and worship Him. It’s a time to slow down a bit to think upon the first advent and why Jesus Christ came into the world.
This world is not as it was originally designed to be. Our world is broken. You only need to turn on the news to be reminded of how much darkness we're in. Our rebellion toward God led to alienation from Him, and a judgment upon the earth and the human condition that has fractured the original, perfect intention God had for us. Sin separated us to the point of hopelessness and despair that cannot be corrected by human effort. When sin entered the world in a garden thousands and thousands of years ago, darkness set in over the land you and I exist in today. But in the midst of the darkness, God made a promise. The hope of Christmas didn't begin in a manger; it began in a garden when God first promised the hope that would come, that one day He would send a Savior into the world to redeem us from the damage sin had done.
Long before we understood about the cross, the people of God sat in darkness waiting for light to break through, and they’d hear about the suffering Servant who would be pierced for our transgressions, taking our iniquity upon Himself and giving us His righteousness (Isaiah 53:5). They longed for that, and they waited and hoped for the coming Messiah who would lift that darkness and save them from their sins.
That’s why we sing:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear…
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
And then one night in Bethlehem it happened. All those promises came true in a baby in a manger. Our Rescuer had come – a child who is fully God and fully man, who would grow up and do for us what we could never do for ourselves. Jesus would live a perfectly righteous life without sin and lay down His life for us. He would take upon the wrath we deserved, put it upon Himself and shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins – forgiveness we receive by faith through His grace. He would rise from the dead, conquering sin, Satan and even death itself through His resurrection, and bring us a redeemed life, adopting us as sons and daughters, reconciling us back to God. It’s a promise that began in a garden that was fulfilled in a manger and culminated on a cross. And that's why we celebrate Christmas. We celebrate that first advent of God becoming a man, dying for us and saving us from our sins.
But no sooner than Immanuel was with us, He left, and the early church and the disciples were confused. Their understanding of Scripture was a common confusion of seeing two different advents as one. When they looked upon those Scriptures, they saw the promises of Him suffering, but also Him ruling and reigning, and they viewed that as one advent, one event. It's like looking upon two mountain peaks; in the distance it looks like one mountain, until you get up close and there's a gap between two peaks. There's a first advent, and there will be a second advent, so now Christmas takes on a whole new meaning.
Between the cross and the crown, we wait again. On this side of the cross, we get the privilege of looking back and celebrating God becoming a man and saving us from our sin. But this season is also one of heart preparation and renewal. We can redeem these weeks by opening up the Word of God and listening to what He is saying to us in the waiting, as we learn to meditate upon His promises. Each day that passes in disappointment that He has not come yet provides opportunity for us to further fix our trust and our affections on Him. This season can help teach our hearts how to wait, like Israel did of old, in expectation of the next advent, in which He’ll come not just to suffer and to save, but to rule and to reign.
 “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Author unknown. Translated by John Mason Neale. 1851. Public Domain.