Today is the third Sunday of Advent.
Advent is a season of hope, expectation and preparation, for both the celebration of Jesus’ first coming in humility and His second coming in glory. The Latin adventus translates the Greek parousia, which has the sense of ‘arriving to be present’. Of the twenty-four occurrences of parousia in the NT, eighteen have eschatological connotations. In the early Christian centuries, Advent focused on Jesus’ second coming. Only later, did the emphasis shift to preparing for Christmas.
Hope, expectation and preparation are at heart of farming and rural life also. We bury seeds in the cold winter soil in the hope of their bursting forth in the warmth of spring; lambs conceived in November grow steadily through the winter months in expectation of their birth in April. For both, preparation is essential: the soil must be cultivated and fertilised; the ewes must be fed correctly and made ready to carry lambs. Both are powerful biblical metaphors of Jesus’ first (John 12:24) and second (Matthew 24:8) advents.
“Advent symbolises the present situation of the church in these last days (Acts 2:17; Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal Kingdom.” Like Israel, we are in ‘exile’, hoping, expecting, preparing, and praying, in the words of the popular Advent hymn, ‘O come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel’.
The modern Advent wreath dates back to the early 19C and is credited to a German pastor, who designed it as a simple visual way to tell the Christmas story to children. The circle represents God’s eternity and endless mercy and love; the evergreens speak of everlasting life in the midst of winter and death; the candles remind us of Jesus who is the light of the world.
The four candles, for the four Sundays of Advent, can have various meanings (eg hope, faith, joy, peace). However, this year, as events have prompted us to think especially about the ‘end times’, we might use them to reflect on the following four questions about Jesus’ approaching return.See Pawson, David. 1995.. When Jesus Returns. Hodder and Stoughton, London.
1. Who? The early church instigated Advent and Christmas partly to refute heresies that denied Jesus was God come as a man. He will return also as a man (Acts 1:11; Zechariah 14:4). The one who became human (John 1:14) and descended to earth is the same as the one who ascended to the highest heaven (Ephesians 4:9-10), and who will return as ‘this same Jesus’ (Acts 1:11).
2. Where? Jesus’ return will be not only physical, but also local. Yet it will be visible to all (Revelation 1:7). He will descend from heaven in the same way as He ascended, but in reverse (Acts 1:11; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:4) and He will rule and reign from Jerusalem (Micah 4:1-3).There is a case for the view that Jesus descends first with clouds to Sinai, in a recapitulation/fulfilment of Deuteronomy 33:2 and Habakkuk 3:3-5.
3. When? Only the Father knows the exact date of Jesus return (Matthew 24:36). It will be unexpected, but will be preceded by many signs that presage the end of the age (eg as described in Jesus’ Olivet discourse, in the OT prophets, 1 & 2 Thessalonians and Revelation). It will take those who walk in darkness by surprise, but Jesus’ followers, the sons of light, who are watching the signs will not be surprised (Matthew 24:37-44; 1 Thessalonians 5:2-5).
4. Why? Jesus returns to complete His salvation of His people (Hebrews 9:28), including His people Israel (Romans 11:26-27), to redeem the earth (Romans 8:20-21), to conquer the devil and his minions, to judge all people, and to reign as King. Finally and fully, His will ‘will be done and His kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven’.
Yea, Amen, let all adore thee, high on thine eternal throne;
Saviour, take the power and glory, claim the kingdom for thine own:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Thou shalt reign and thou alone.
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
[This article was first published in the Winter 2020 issue of Village Link, which is sent to subscribers by mail or email. If you would like to join our mailing list and receive this and future issues of Village Link, please contact us.]