Advent Awkwardness: The In-Between Believer

3 Advent A

This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven.

Mark 1:4 NLT

John the Baptist was an in-between man. He ministered in-between the Old and New Covenants. John preached in-between the fulfillment of messianic prophecy and its immediate fulfillment in Christ. John was like an Old Testament prophet in dress, speech, and food, but he pointed to the Lamb of God, the Savior of the world. John desired no personal recognition or acclamation, but he was considered greatest among the prophets (Matt. 11:11; Mark 1:3).

Like an Old Testament prophet, he prepared national Israel for the coming of the Lord, yet he called individual Israelites to change their hearts and repent. John’s ministry was in-between ages, covenants, and promises. John’s life was in-between the Law and the Gospel. John was an Advent prophet living in anticipation of Christ’s first coming, yet a model for us as we await Jesus’s second coming (Matt. 17:11-13).

We, too, are in-between believers: we wait for the Kingdom of God to appear visibly while living internally under its sway. Like John the Baptist, we are called to exhort others to repentance as we point them to Christ, the sin-bearer. In anticipation, we yearn to see Christ face-to-face at his second coming while living by faith after his first appearing. We live in-between the first and second comings, the manger and the Parousia. Like John, we are Advent prophets, responsible to call the lost to repentance and point them to the coming King, the redeemer of the world.

John appears in the wilderness as a man dedicated to God. First of all he preaches repentance, purification, and the gathering together of the people for the coming of God. In a sense this proclamation summaries the whole of prophecy at the very moment when history is reaching its goal. His mission is to open the door for God, so that Israel is ready to welcome him and to prepare for his hour in history. The important things are first his call to repentance, which continues what all the prophets have said, and second his witness to Christ, which again makes prophecy concrete in the image of the lamb, which is the Lamb of God.

Pope Benedict XVI, Benedictus (Yonkers, NY: Magnificat, 2006), 373.

Advent Waiting: Watching for the Bridegroom

Advent: Second Week
Advent: Second Week

So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.

Matt. 24: 42 NLT

Watchfulness is a passionate desire for the presence of the bridegroom which awakens within us a spiritual sensitivity to the signs of his soon arrival. This spiritual sensitivity is a heart connection with the Holy Spirit who graces the believer with insights and discernment concerning the times and seasons immediately preceding Christ’s parousia. A watchful attitude is characterized by being spiritually alert, holy and ready for Christ’s return, as opposed to spiritual dullness typified by worldly attitudes and sinful passions. (HT: Mike Bickle)

We must not only have faith in [Christ], but must wait on Him; not only must hope, but must watch for Him; not only love Him, but must long for Him; not only obey Him, but must look out, look up earnestly for our reward, which is Himself. We must not only make Him the Object of our faith, hope, and charity, but we must make it our duty not to believe the world, not to hope in the world, not to love the world. We must resolve not to hang on the world’s opinion, or study its wishes. It is our mere wisdom to be thus detached from all things below. . . .

They, then, watch and wait for their Lord, who are tender and sensitive in their devotion towards Him; who feed on the thought of Him, hang on His words; live in His smile, and thrive and grow under His hand. They are eager for His approval, quick in catching His meaning, jealous of His honour. They see Him in all things, expect Him in all events, and amid all the cares, the interests, and the pursuits of this life, still would feel an awful joy, not a disappointment, did they hear that He was on the point of coming.

John Henry Newman,   “Waiting for Christ”

 

Advent’s Meaning: The Three Comings

1 Advent A
1 Advent A

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

1 John 3:2-3

The season of Advent celebrates three comings of Christ: one future, one past, and one present. Advent waiting is present-day thankfulness for Christ’s first coming in the manger while eagerly expecting Christ’s second coming in glorious majesty. This present thankfulness, this present waiting; God uses to enter our lives afresh in power and purity (1 Cor. 7:29-31).

Advent prepares our hearts for the second coming of Christ as we express gratitude to Christ for his first coming. Our hearts and lives must be prepared and ready for his return. Advent is a season of repentance for we know that Christ comes again in holiness, power, and judgment. Advent is a season of joy for we will encounter Christ in newness of life. Advent is a season of personal renewal as we focus anew on “keeping our eyes on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2).

The season of Advent should lead us into deep repentance: Christ comes now into our hearts by the presence of the Holy Spirit as we spiritually prepare for his return. Advent is a season of deep delight for we are grateful for Christ’s coming in the manger: the incarnation made the way for our salvation. Advent is a season of brokenness: our repentance builds within us an eager expectation for the coming of Christ. Advent is a season of revival: we surrender our wills afresh to God for the coming year.

In preparation for the coming church year, we yearn for the personal  transformation. Advent waiting is the prayerful longing to see Jesus face-to-face and experience the Holy Spirit deeply and personally.  Advent waiting cleanses, converts, and renews our hearts as we await Christ’s physical appearance in the skies (1 John 3:2-3).

In this present world, we endure while calmly trusting the Holy Spirit to be Christ in us in the midst of a fallen and decadent world. In hope, we look forward to seeing our blessed Savior face-to-face. In faith, we trust his promises standing on his Word. In love, we reach out to others that they too might know the Christ who comes.

A summary of Robert Webber’s thoughts on Advent from his book, Ancient-Future Time:

Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.

The Messiah’s coming is understood in three different senses: (1) His coming to earth in Bethlehem, (2) His second-coming at the consummation of God’s purposes and (3) His coming in the present moment into my life.

The coming of Messiah to me in this moment is predicated on repentance.

Repentance is not something we can take, but it must be granted us by God.

Isaiah is the prophet of Advent because in his life and prophetic word, he represented the hope of Advent.

John the Baptist and Mary, Jesus mother, reveal Advent spirituality: the former by his single-minded mission and self-giving love, the latter by her willingness to yield her life to God’s will.

Robert Webber, Ancient Future Faith: Forming Spirituality Through the Church Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).

HT: Joel Willitts

 

Advent Cleansing: Don’t Leave Us Alone

Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Psalm 51:11

The fourth Sunday of Advent rapidly approaches which means that Christmas Day is quickly arriving. We must not forget that Advent is a time of repentance: we give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to search our hearts for any attitude that would produce shame upon our Savior’s return. We need a heart change to be ready for Christ’s second coming and an interior cleansing for the celebration of Christ’s first coming. Repentance is the recognition that God is right and that we are wrong. We are wrong because we have broken God’s law, and as a result, our selfish actions have wounded God’s heart and hurt others. Repentance is a change of mind that by God’s grace leads to change of heart which creates a change in our behavior. Advent means character transformation.

Advent is a time when we ask, even plead with God not to leave us alone, for when God leaves us to our own choices and turns us over to our own ways, we are certain to drift from him . . . . If we would break away from a spiritual life growing cold and a Christ who is becoming distant, we must be attentive to our spiritual discipline and long for God to break in on us with new life. When we do this, we experience the true meaning of Advent spirituality.

Robert Webber, Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year(Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 43, 53.

Advent Meaning: The Three Comings

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

1 John 3:2-3

The season of Advent celebrates three comings of Christ: one future, one past, and one present.

Advent prepares our hearts for the second coming of Christ as we express gratitude to Christ for his first coming. Our hearts must must be prepared and ready for his return. Advent is a season of repentance for we know that Christ comes again in holiness, power, and judgment.

Advent leads us into deeper repentance: Christ comes now into our hearts by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Advent is a season of joy for we are grateful for Christ’s coming in the manger: the incarnation made the way for our salvation. Advent can be summarized as life of repentance leading to a present joy-filled, fresh experience of the risen Christ.

In preparation for the coming church year, we yearn for the transformation of our hearts. Advent waiting is the prayerful longing to see Jesus face-to-face and experience afresh God’s Holy Spirit pouring upon us in love and grace.  Advent waiting is thankfulness for Christ’s first coming while eagerly expecting Christ’s second coming in glorious majesty. Advent waiting cleanses, converts and renews our hearts as we await Christ’s physical appearance in the skies.

In this present world, we endure while calmly trusting the Holy Spirit to be Christ in us in the midst of a fallen and decadent world. In hope, we look forward to seeing our blessed Savior face-to-face.

A summary of Robert Webber’s thoughts on Advent from his book, Ancient-Future Time:

Advent is a time to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.

The Messiah’s coming is understood in three different senses: (1) His coming to earth in Bethlehem, (3) His second-coming at the consummation of God’s purposes and (3) His coming in the present moment into my life.

The coming of Messiah to me in this moment is predicated on repentance.

Repentance is not something we can take, but it must be granted us by God.

Isaiah is the prophet of Advent because in his life and prophetic word, he represented the hope of Advent.

John the Baptist and Mary, Jesus mother, reveal Advent spirituality: the former by his single-minded mission and self-giving love, the latter by her willingness to yield her life to God’s will.

Robert Webber, Ancient Future Faith: Forming Spirituality Through the Church Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004).

HT: Joel Willitts

 

Advent Expectation: Personal Renewal

The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’

Mark 1:3

The season of Advent is one of my favorite times in the Christian calendar. Advent is like New Year’s Eve, the Holy Spirit convicts our hearts to seek God afresh for the coming year. Advent is like a revival, the Holy Spirit examines our deepest longings and speaks to our impure motives and attitudes. Advent is like a prophecy film, we are reminded that Christ is coming again and that this life is not as good as it gets. Advent is the Holy Spirit knocking on the doors of our hearts drawing us to Jesus. The expectation of Advent is the anticipation of Christ changing our hearts: minute by minute, day by day, month by month.

Advent is not an miracle out of the blue such as is offered by the preachers of revolution and the heralds of new ways of salvation. God acts in an entirely human ways with us, leading us step by step and waiting for us. The days of Advent are like a quiet knocking at the door of our smothered souls, inviting us to undertake the risk of stepping forward toward God’s mysterious presence, which alone can make us free.

Pope Benedict XVI, Seek That Which Is Above (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), 22.

Advent Repentance: Burn Everything Away

 

He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross.

Mal. 3:3

Increasingly, the season of Advent is being turned into a pre-Christmas holiday. Overwhelmed by shopping, gift-giving, parties, and meal preparations, the major themes of Advent are being lost. In the flurry of activity, we forget that Advent has three focuses: the Second Coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-17), Jesus’s becoming fully man at his first coming (Titus 2:11), and his coming into our hearts now by the work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17).

Scripture teaches that the Second Coming should be a motivator for desiring holiness (1 John 3:2-3). When Jesus appears in the clouds, we whose hearts have been changed by the gospel, will want to be living lives that please him. We desire our attitudes and actions to reflect the grace that has been given us in the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:28). We want to bring joy to his heart as we see him face-to-face (2 Thess. 1:10). Therefore, repentance is a key theme in the season of Advent: deep repentance of heart and mind as we prepare for Christ’s visible return.

Repentance begins as a work of the Holy Spirit; he changes our minds convincing us that our actions are wrong and hurtful. The Holy Spirit’s conviction leads to brokenness over our failure resulting in an admitting of that wrong to the Lord (and to others, if necessary). Our confession opens the door of our hearts to the receiving God’s great forgiveness. The overwhelming, enabling grace of God pours out into our hearts bringing about a change in our behavior.

In short, repentance is a change of mind that by God’s grace leads to change of heart which creates a change in our behavior. Repentance is simple, but not easy: a change of thinking that causes a softening of the heart which alters our conduct. All begins with the recognition that God is right and that we are wrong. We are wrong because we have broken God’s law, Christ’s commands, and /or the Holy Spirit’s leading. As a result, our selfish actions have wounded God’s heart and hurt others. Upon repenting, grace is available for pardon and grace is available for power. Pardon for forgiveness of sin and power to overcome the sin that so easily defeated us. Repentance does not earn God’s forgiveness, his forgiveness is already available through Christ’s finished work on the Cross.

My good friend and fellow parishioner of Lamb of God Church, “Jay” Ferguson, wrote this prayer as a meditation for last year’s Advent season. Jay has now passed and we miss him greatly. Jay’s prayer puts into words the cry of our hearts: “Lord, deal with us. Cleanse us from sin, purify our consciences, renew our spirits. We want to be prepared for Jesus’ second coming as well as being ready to worship and praise the Lord for his first coming.”

Burn Everything Away

Father, in Jesus’ name, burn away every dream, desire, attitude, thought, feeling, word and action that is not a result of Your Spirit reigning in my life.

Burn away everything that is more important to me than my revelation of You and my relationship with You.

Burn away everything that hinders me from loving You with all my heart and loving my neighbors as I love myself.

Burn away everything that hinders me from hearing and obeying Your voice.

Burn away everything I believe about who You are and what You are like that is not the Truth.

Burn away everything in my heart and mind that causes me to desire to harm or destroy those who desire or act to harm or destroy me.

Burn away the lust of my eyes, the lust of my flesh and the pride in my life.

Burn away everything that causes me to desire to own or possess anything that is not rightfully mine.

Burn away everything that causes me to desire to lie or exaggerate to get what I want or impress or harm others.

Father, in Jesus’ name, I ask that I will be deeply intimate with You, filled with your Holy Spirit, free of pride, lust and fear, loving, patient, kind, tender- hearted, forgiving, joyful, thankful, grateful, humble, considerate, healthy, successful, prosperous and very generous.

Dr. James H. Ferguson

Advent Anticipation: The Blessed Hope

Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Titus 2:13 ESV

The second coming (i.e., Second Advent) takes places when Christ returns in bodily form to receive the church and judge the nations. That coming is personal and real for we, the Christ-followers, will see him face-to-face and rejoice at his appearing. Knowing that one day we will see Jesus visibly, we are powerfully motivated to walk in holiness (1 John 3:2-3).

Christ died on our behalf, the Holy Spirit changed our hearts; as result, God freed us from our bondage to live for him. In gratitude, we desire to please our Savior by our behavior. “No shame,” is the watchword for the expectation of Jesus’ coming (1 John 2:28). We desire our lives, attitudes, and actions to honor Christ upon his return. The advent motivation for purity of heart and pleasing our Lord propels us forward in a world gone mad (2 Pet. 3:11). We await a blessed hope, not a terror in the night, or a tragedy of epic proportion, but a Savior who loves and is ready to receive us into his presence.

The Lord shall come! The Church in the early ages took up the subject as of profoundest and most pressing interest, ‘looking for that blessed hope.’ It was no minor hope to the primitive saints. It cheered them at parting with their Lord, and it comforted them at parting with one another.

It upheld them in evil days; it nerved them for warfare; it gave them patience under persecution; it animated them in their work; it kept alive their zeal; it enabled them to look calmly round upon an evil world, and to face its mustering storms; it showed them resurrection and glory, fixing their eye upon scenes beyond the deathbed and the tomb; it ever reminded them of the day of meeting, when Jesus will gather all His own together, and those who have slept in Him shall awake to glory, honor, and immortality.

Horatius Bonar, The Revelation of Jesus Christ

HT: Of First Importance  

Mary, Simeon, and the Prophetic Word

 

And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, ‘Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.’

Luke 2:34-35

On this blog, we have discussed the word of prophecy (1 Cor. 12: 10), its importance during the season of Advent, and how to respond when given a confirmed prophetic word. Today’s post focuses on the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model for receiving and acting on prophetic words. Luke 2:25-40 describes two prophetic ministers, Anna and Simeon, reaching out to Mary when the baby Jesus is being presented at the Temple for circumcision.

Simeon was united in Christ in righteousness, “righteous and devout” (v. 25a), yielded to Christ trusting his delay, “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25b), and remained in Christ enjoying his manifested presence, “Holy Spirit was upon him” (v. 25c). Simeon was intimate with God for Simeon knew his voice, “you would not die” until he sees Messiah (v. 26), and Simeon was led by the Spirit for he was directed by the Spirit “into the Temple courts” (v. 27).

Simeon’s prophetic word consisted of two parts: public in Temple (v. 29-32) and private to Mary (v. 34-35).The public pronouncement focuses on Jesus–God’s salvation found in the baby. This salvation is for the Gentiles and the Jews bringing about the healing of the nations.

Simeon’s personal word to Mary is strangely negative: the proud, self-absorbed, self-assured, and hard-hearted will be revealed (v34-35). Israel will resist Jesus’ ministry, and as result, their worldly, unbelieving hearts will be exposed.  In turn, Israel’s rejection of Mary’s son, the Son of God, will break her heart as well. [Stephen D. Swihart, ed., Logos International Bible Commentary(Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1981), 439.

Some may ask why Simeon’s word of prophecy is negative in tone, “Are not all prophecies to be ‘strengthening, encouraging, and comforting'” (1 Cor. 14:3)? “Are not all prophecies to be positive and uplifting”? A prophecy can contain a rebuke, correction, or warning and still be comforting and healing. When Jesus corrects or rebukes, he also gives the grace, the Holy Spirit’s enabling power, to obey his word of command. Jesus gives prophetic words to the seven churches of Asia: five of the seven are rebuked or corrected for their lack of holiness, obedience, or perseverance. Yet, all five are encouraged, graced, and offered a reward for choosing obedience (Rev. 2 & 3).

Simeon’s warning to Mary is the Holy Spirit’s way of helping Mary avoid the pain and shock of unexpected suffering and rejection. It is good that Mary knows now that her precious child’s future death will break her heart in the most painful of ways–the Cross.

Simeon and Anna are the senior citizens of Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth, and they know and understand more than anyone else. Of all the people that Jerusalem’s streets were teeming with the day that Jesus was named–the rich, the powerful, the young, the holy,–only Simeon and Anna are given insight into who is being carried into the Temple courts in his parent’s arms. In fact, they know more than Mary or Joseph, who are astonished at what Simeon says about Jesus. It is clear that God has placed great value on Anna and Simeon and that he does not think he is wasting the Holy Spirit on two seniors who have passed the prime of life.

Murray Andrew Pura, “Luke,” in The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, New Revised Standard Version with Deuterocanonical Books, eds., Richard J. Foster, Dallas Willard, Walter Brueggemann, and Eugene H. Peterson (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1989), 1887.

Advent Prophet: John the Baptist

God sent a man, John the Baptist, to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony.

John 1:6–7 NLT

John the Baptist was an in-between man. He ministered in-between the Old and New Covenants. John preached in-between the fulfillment of messianic prophecy and its immediate fulfillment in Christ. John was like an Old Testament prophet in dress, speech, and food, but he pointed to the Lamb of God, the savior of the world. John desired no personal recognition or acclamation.

Like an Old Testament prophet, he prepared national Israel for the coming of the Lord, yet he called individual Israelites to change their hearts and repent. John’s ministry was in-between ages, covenants, and promises. John’s life was in-between the Law and the Gospel. John was an Advent prophet living in anticipation of Christ’s first coming.

We, too, are in-between people: we wait for the Kingdom of God to appear visibly while living internally under its sway. Like John the Baptist, we are called to exhort others to repentance as we point them to Christ, the sin-bearer. In anticipation, we yearn to see Christ face-to-face at his second coming while living by faith after his first appearing. We live in-between the first and second comings, the manger and the Parousia. Like John, we are Advent prophets, responsible to call the lost to repentance and point them to the coming King, the redeemer of the world.

John appears in the wilderness as a man dedicated to God. First of all he preaches repentance, purification, and the gathering together of the people for the coming of God. In a sense this proclamation summaries the whole of prophecy at the very moment when history is reaching its goal. His mission is to open the door for God, so that Israel is ready to welcome him and to prepare for his hour in history. The important things are first his call to repentance, which continues what all the prophets have said, and second his witness to Christ, which again makes prophecy concrete in the image of the lamb, which is the Lamb of God.

Pope Benedict XVI, Benedictus (Yonkers, NY: Magnificat, 2006), 373.