The Comings of Christ


 Maybe you’re wondering what our gospel reading from Mark has to do with the beginning of Advent, the time in the Christian calendar when we wait for Christ to come.

First of all, Jesus is speaking, meaning there is no waiting involved. And that's only the beginning.

Have you ever noticed how with the Christian calendar, time overlaps, intersperses, and intermingles? Advent begins our wait for Christ, a Christ who is already here and has been since the beginning.

We call this paradox, and paradox is a thing in our faith.

I mean, Communion is a part of our Christian calendar. In fact, we just remembered and recalled the real spiritual presence of Christ’s body and blood. Yet we also honor today the beginning of Advent, the time of waiting for Christ’s presence on earth to arrive.

Time for us as the circle of Christ-followers isn’t perfectly linear. This is not an a to b to c to d faith. A, b, c, and d overlap, intermingle, sing together!

This should be no surprise. God is infinite in nature. Time doesn’t apply to God. And so, real, earthly time and Christian time don’t perfectly align.

And so I say without reservation that, as Advent begins, we wait for what’s already here.

We share Communion while recalling and remembering one not yet born.

We worship the son of God who is the same age as his Father, and their age is infinitude.

This paradoxical reality, we see it in the mere fact that our passage from Mark 13 is the lectionary reading for the first day of Advent. 

Mark 13 shows Jesus prophesying his second coming. But we read it on the first Sunday of Advent, the time of waiting for Christ’s first coming.

The reason Mark 13 is part of the Advent lectionary is that there is a common denominator surrounding Christ’s first coming on Christmas and Christ’s second coming yet to happen.

The common denominator? Both the wait for Christ’s first and second comings include the hopeful, watchful expectation that with Christ’s coming things will be made right and just and true, that God’s will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven. The hopeful waiting for Christ’s return mirrors the hopeful waiting in that original Advent 2,000 years ago.

 

But I’d like to consider something that disrupts even that familiar linear notion of Christ’s first and second coming.

Christ has been coming into the world again and again since Creation. In fact, Christ was the conduit through which Creation came into being. Colossians 1 explains this beautifully! “For by [Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

Creation is an expression of Christ. Whenever you truly stop and observe the beautiful gift of Creation, you see Christ here and now. Three thousand years ago, say, on this very land, if someone looked at the heavens and earth and saw deeply and humbly and experienced the beauty of creation therein, Christ would have been in a general way revealed. This was true before Jesus was born and still is. Why? Because Creation is an expression of Christ.

Do you know what else is an expression of Christ? The word of God.

I know I quote a lot from John 1, but it is so essential to a Christian view of the world. John gives us a Christian addendum to Genesis 1. In the beginning, was the Word. Christ is the Word of God. As for the Bible, the written word, it expresses Christ, the original word. The Bible’s words point to the Word, the Word that became flesh and dwelled among us, saving the world, as the gospel of John.

That the Bible expresses Christ is obvious for the New Testament. But the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, for Christians, expresses Christ as well. Jesus himself said, “I’ve come not to abolish Torah, the Old Testament scripture, but to fulfill it.”

For my last point here, let’s narrow in on the Old Testament, namely on a figure that regularly appears in the story of the Old Testament. That figure is called the Angel of the Lord.

This angel of the Lord is unlike any other angel. Think about the Hebrew Bible’s major characters – Hagar, Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Jacob, Joshua. The angel of the Lord appeared to them. The angel of the Lord informed Hagar of the great lineage that would follow with the birth of her son Ishmael. The angel of the Lord informed Abraham and Sarah about Isaac’s miraculous conception. The angel of the Lord appeared in the burning bush and spoke to Moses. The angel of the Lord wrestled with Jacob and transformed his life. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joshua as the angelic host’s captain and commanded Joshua to remove his sandals for he was in the angel of the Lord’s presence, and thus on holy ground.”

In all these cases, the Angel of the Lord is understood to be the Lord God in earthly visible form. Hagar, Abraham, Moses, Jacob address the angel of the Lord as the Lord God himself.

The Christian tradition since the beginning has taught that the angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is none other than the pre-incarnation, pre-Christmas expression of Christ. The angel of the Lord in the Old Testament was an expression of Christ.

So, let’s summarize and then conclude with our takeaway.

Creation is an expression of Christ,

The Bible, the New of course, but also the Old Testament, is an expression of Christ.

The angel of the Lord read about in the OT is an expression of Christ.

And all of these things point to expressions of Christ before we even get to Jesus’ birth.

 

What is the takeaway for this first Sunday of Advent?

As we prepare our hearts and wait for Jesus’ birth, may we know what we prepare and wait for is already here waiting to be born in us. It is Christ who waits. Christ waits for us to realize he is already here. Christ waits for us to make room for him to live in us and through us. Christ waits for us to actualize his peace in a world perennially at war. Christ waits for us to take his grace and make it amazing with the lives we lead in the communities we call home.

Maybe this little meditation practice I leave you with might help. Each day this week or maybe even this Advent season, take 5-10 minutes and recite this prayer taken from the carol we will soon sing.

Be born in me today,
Emmanuel

By the way, Emmanuel literally translates as God With Us.

Let us close by taking a minute or less to recite this prayer silently.

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