Why Advent? Why celebrate a coming that’s already done?
It’s upon us. Advent is here. And Advent means coming. So we could say, the coming has come.
Has it ever struck you as a wee bit strange that we prepare for the coming of something that’s already come?
But that Something was what Dr, Luke called in his Gospel, “the Holy Thing which shall be born” of Mary and called the Son of God. And so beyond, or better, in the stockings and candles and chocolates and Legos (thank you, friends) behind each little numbered door, behind the Shepherd on the Search and nightly excursions on Jotham’s Journey, is the Holy One who came into our world from outside.
Oswald Chambers. wrote that His coming was “the Highest and Holiest entering at the Lowliest door.” Jesus Christ, the Holy One- Son of God and Son of man- was born.
So this is Christmas.
But what’s the big deal about Advent?
We get Christmas. We celebrate all manner of birthdays, so of course we pick a day to celebrate our Savior’s birth. But why stretch it across four Sundays? Why four weeks leading up?
Because this birthday is way to big for one day to contain. We need more time to stir ourselves up for this one. We need these extra weeks to remember why Christmas is such a big deal. It’s when we, Church, ask ourselves all over again, What do we think of Christ?
In “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged,” Dorothy Sayers says our answer to that is categorical. and uncompromising:
Jesus Bar-Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, was in fact and in truth, and in the most exact and literal sense of the words, the God “by whom all things were made.” He was not merely a man so good as to be “like God”- he was God.
Now, this is not just a pious commonplace; it is not a commonplace at all. For what it means is this, among other things that for whatever reason God chose to make man as he is- limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death- he [God] had the honesty and the courage to take his own medicine. Whatever game he is playing with his creation, he has kept his own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that he has not exacted from himself.
C.S. Lewis simply said, The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God. No, It’s not commonplace at all.
How would you like to become a slug?
But Lewis wasn’t done,
The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)
Before him, 19th century Scottish pastor Horatius Bonar explained,
God’s desire is to bless us, not to curse; to save, not to destroy. He seeks reconciliation with us; nay, He has brought about the reconciliation. He has not merely made proposals of peace and sent the to us by the hand of an ambassador; but He has Himself come to us, bearing His own message and presenting Himself to us in our nature, as His own ambassador…God Himself is both the speaker and the maker of peace.
We need more than a day to let this truth sink in. Hence all this Advent todo. It is much ado- but maybe not nearly enough ado- about the greatest event ever.
How can this be?
Because, The creation of the world was a very great thing, but not so great as the incarnation of Christ, wrote another 19th century pastor William Plumer, It was a great thing for God to make the creature, but not so great as for the Creator to become a creature.
Can such a impossible thing be true? How can God, who is spirit, take on flesh and blood? Can very God become very Man via a virgin’s womb?
The virgin wondered too.
When Mary asks how she could conceive God’s Son, the angel Gabriel gave an answer that “must be one of the most important statements that has ever been made in any book in all of history.” Gabriel answered Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy — the Son of God,” ( Luke 1:35 ).
God broke into the universe by doing the impossible.
Enough time to wrap your head around impossible?
Probably not. But at least for me, wreaths and hymns and candles and readings and 24-door calendars force the impossible issue.
“For nothing will be impossible with God,” (Luke 1:37). That’s what Gabriel says to Mary as the bottom line answer for how Christmas would happen.
In a sermon on Luke 1:26-38, John Piper explains,
[W]hen all our objections have spent themselves, this truth remains: “Nothing will be impossible with God.” God had been preparing the world for this impossibility for thousands of years. Listen to the testimonies: Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Job 42:2, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” Jeremiah 32:17, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who has made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” And the time has come for the most impossible thing to be done: God enters his creation as part of it, and without ceasing to be the uncreated God.
He came and did the impossible. That first coming is done.
Or, time to worship the God for whom nothing is impossible?
So, that’s why guys. That’s why this family celebrates the Coming that’s come.
Because it takes a while to wrap our minds around the impossible thing that was done- around a Coming that came. Around a Coming that’s already done. That’s what those 24 funny little doors on our Advent Calendars- yes, even the chocolate and Legos behind them- and our Sunday night adventures in dripping candle wax and our singing seven verses (or at least four) of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel are all about.
All for love. We bring up the bins and set up all this stuff because God took the initiative in his great love to restore us to Him. Because God so loved the world He sent his only begotten Son. We remember in these three Advent weeks that people living in darkness have seen a great light. That God has visited his people. And, yes, that He will come again.
We remember that God did the impossible and the Holy One has come. And Advent isn’t nearly enough time to wrap our minds around it.
But we can worship Him while we try.
Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shuts in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.