O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Advent is a special time of the year. It’s a time of waiting expectantly for what is to come; waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus, this miraculous moment when heaven touched earth and God made his dwelling among us. And then there is the waiting for what is yet to come, the promise we live with that Jesus will come again.
Advent is about our waiting and God’s coming. The Latin adventus is a translation of the Greek word parousia. It’s used 24 times in the New Testament and 16 uses of it refer to the second coming of Christ.
There’s a tension present in our waiting for the Parousia, the certainty of it coming and the uncertainty of when it will come. But the hope the certainty we have engenders, permeates our waiting and expecting far beyond the uncertainty.
In the advent carol ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ that longing for God’s coming is repeated throughout the song. The longing is sometimes out of despair, asking for the Saviour to ‘disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.’
But that longing is always in the context of rejoicing because it will not be in vain: ‘Emmanuel shall come.’ Emmanuel, God with us, is a perennial truth. So be glad, take heart, and rejoice!
We put our hope in the mystery made flesh. In the incarnation, humanity and divinity collide; it is a spectacular and emphatic ‘yes’ proclaimed by God over human beings; ‘yes’, you are my children and ‘yes’, you are my very good creation.
The incarnation speaks of the profound commitment of God to his children.The theologian, Rowan Williams, says of the incarnation:
Jesus of Nazareth is the face of God turned toward us in history, decisively and definitively. All this life is God’s act. The Church did not invent the doctrine of the incarnation: slowly and stumblingly, Christians discovered it. If Jesus is translucent to God in all he does and is, if he is empty so as to pour out the riches of God, if he is the wellspring of life and grace, what then? He is God: in infancy, in death, in eating and drinking, in healing and preaching… He is there for all, because he has made himself God’s ‘space’, God’s room in the world… God and humanity are knotted together there in that space of history.
Human beings matter to God. We need only look to God in Christ so see that is true. It means we have a duty to honour human beings and make the way for those without hope, without the comfort of longing for God with us, to have that certainty-in-mystery.
At Viva, our mission is clear: children matter to God and therefore children matter to us. We wait expectantly for God to ‘make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery’ and yet seek to bring it about now for children at risk, in whatever humanly-limited way we can.
There’s a beautiful painting by an early Netherlandish painter, Geertgen tot Sint, Jans called ‘Nativity at Night’. The painting depicts a tiny baby Jesus as an emanating source of light, with Mary and angels kneeling around him in the foreground, and an angel appearing to shepherds in the background. In the painting, Emmanuel has both come and is coming.
It is the paradox of faith in oil on oak: the now and not yet; the hope and uncertainty. And yet, despite all that we can – we must – rejoice. God has come. God is coming. God will come.
In this Advent season, let us rejoice in our longing, let us wait with joyful expectance, and let us bring about his coming in whatever way we can for the people around us in celebration of the unequivocal divine ‘yes’ to human beings God made manifest beginning in the birth of Jesus.
This is the first of four reflections from Viva for Advent 2017 in a series entitled, ‘Hear the angels sing’. Look out for more published on the next three Advent Sundays.
The folks over at Bible Society are running #AdventChallenge – a chance to daily acts of biblically-inspired kindness in the run up to Christmas. In a world where Advent Calendars have become about extravagance, hedonism, and extortionate cost, counting down the Advent days through acts of kindness is a wonderful witness to the light of Christ’s coming.