The first Sunday in Advent not only signals the start of a new Church Year, but it also demarcates significant transition. Christians should sense that something momentous is afoot and that the momentousness consists of the double helix of time and presence. Advent promises to bring us into that contemplative space that says, “We are one step closer to the coming of Christ; fulfillment is at hand because the One who fills all things has come, comes, and will come again.”
We begin to see it transition in mood, colors, lighting, decoration and song. Both in public domains and about our personal homes there’s a rendering of the places once occupied by political discourse and acrimony with expectant peace and requisite grandeur. We mark this part of the calendar with expectation, hope, and joy because of The Coming One. There is something celebratory in the air, something that bespeaks of the visit of royalty, a King, indeed, even the King of kings. And as we prepare for the King, the mundane gives way to notes of extravagance. In fact, not one week but four weeks of preparation, contrition, and festivities. And even that’s not enough. The double helix of time and presence converging on Immanuel – God with us – must linger for nearly two weeks; a full twelve days of Christmas. Still, that doesn’t quite do it. Historically speaking the Season of Christmas is purposely joined to Epiphany – the season celebrating the fact of Christ revealed and given to the Gentiles, hyperextending Christmas another seven weeks!
There is no other transitionary event in human history that warrants three full months of focused attention and persistent acknowledgment than the incarnation of the Son of God. It is the single most significant event in history and, so, is rightly monumentalized on the calendar throughout the spaces inhabited by God’s image-bearers.
And here is the transition: In the fullness of time, the Christ of God came “born of a woman, born under the law” for the purposes of accomplishing redemption and ushering a new covenant of grace through his blood atonement and justifying resurrection. God came to Earth to save, conquer and recreate. What possibly could be more momentous? Time and presence converge on a virgin named Mary and through her body comes the One that careens the world into a startlingly new direction: New Creation.
Sermons during this season will signal notes of fulfillment already but also fulfillment to come, all hinging on presence. Time and presence. Indeed, prominent in considerations of fulfillment will be the dual themes of presence and time, present in time – the real “in-flesh” presence of God with us and for us. So Advent, when sounding the presence of the King, cannot but connote elements of law, of accountability, of preparedness, for the King comes with power, authority, and justice. The King adjudicates accounts. But the point of Advent is good news; good news of peace for mankind under this King; good news for those who are in Christ Jesus for there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). The divine in-flesh presence is for our salvation and constitutes the substance of divine self-giving. There is no Advent without in-fleshment, incarnation, be it then, now, or the Last Day. And it is this transition of God into flesh and its resultant implication—reconciliation—that makes this the transitionary event ever or ever shall be.
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