I am very grateful to First Lady Donna for inviting me to share some thoughts during this special season of the year.
Advent, as you may know, means “Coming.” The Story of the World pivots on that one word – adventus!
When we hid from God in shame in the garden, what did He do? He came to us! He immediately showed that part of His character without which we would be undone. Then throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, in various ways, He lovingly and repeatedly says, “I am coming!” And the story of your life and mine pivots on our response to Him who said, and is saying, “I am coming!”
During these days of Advent, Jesus wants to take you into your fullest, personal experience of His comings: His first coming, His present comings, and His second coming. Let Him lead you into prolonged ponderings of the Holy Scriptures wherein He will tell you about both His first and second comings. As you deeply contemplate all that you are told about His wonderful advents into His world, you will be taken up into extraordinary feelings of amazement, gratitude, and love. Your continued meditation on the facts of His story will become like a casting of fire logs onto the flames within you. It is by those flames that your heart and mind will be transported back to the time of His birth and His life as the Suffering Servant, and you will be launched forward to see the day of His return as the Victorious King. Your ongoing experience of these two great advents of our Lord will then cause you to have a greatly heightened awareness of His constant, present comings in your life.
His First Coming: Jesus, Almighty God the Son, came for our redemption. This is the bedrock of our faith. Our foundation is not our personal experiences, as wonderful as they may be. The underpinning of our faith is an historical event: the coming of God into His world as a Man.
Over fifty years ago, when I was a university student, I was struggling greatly with uncertainty about the truthfulness of the Incarnation. I knew that if this seemingly bizarre idea was not true, this whole Christian religion was nothing: it was absolutely nothing for me to be concerned about. On the other hand, if it was true, then it was everything – everything my whole life was about, everything the whole world was about. Knowing that it was possible that this might be true, and therefore in fact be everything, I knew right then and there that I could not pass through this short life without at least trying to find out whether this was true. Soon after this, in God’s kind providence, I had the opportunity to go with some friends to a beautiful farm in Washington Parish to hear a talk by a Harvard graduate who was involved in campus ministry at LSU. His lecture was exactly what I needed to hear. He spoke on Christ’s perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament’s messianic prophecies. Here is a very brief synopsis of what we heard:
It was in Genesis 3:15 that God announced His redemptive plan as He declared that the “offspring” of the woman “will crush the head” of the serpent. Centuries later, the prophet Isaiah said that this woman would be a “virgin.” The prophets also said that this Man would be a descendant of the Hebrew patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and that he would be of the lineage of King David who was of the tribe of Judah. They said that He would be born in the small town of Bethlehem and that He would spend time as a child in Egypt and that a massacre of infants would occur at his birthplace and that He would be called a Nazarene. He would begin His ministry in Galilee, and during His ministry, Gentiles would come to Him.
Possibly most fascinating of all is the detail with which the prophets described his crucifixion and the events attendant upon it. He would be betrayed. He would be abandoned by His closest friends. He would be falsely accused and would give no answer to His accusers. He would be mocked and ridiculed and spat upon and struck. He would be executed with criminals, having His hands and feet pierced. Soldiers would gamble for His garments. He would be given vinegar for His thirst. His bones would not be broken. His side would be pierced. He would be buried with the rich. He would be resurrected from the dead. And He would ascend into heaven.
And who exactly would this Messiah be? The prophet Micah said, “His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.” And Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” In the New Testament, as Jesus stood on the Mount of Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah, God the Father echoed Moses’ prophetic words, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
As I sat there, on that night in Washington Parish, I was convinced that it was true: Jesus of Nazareth really was and is Eternal God the Son. God really did come into this world as a Man.
And why did He come? As the songwriter said,
He paid a debt He did not owe,
I owed a debt I could not pay,
I needed someone to wash my sin away
And now I sing that brand new song: Amazing Grace
For Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay.
Let Jesus take you back to the feed trough in Bethlehem where in humility He lay. And let Him take you back to the cross where He paid our dreadful debt. Hear Him say, “I came for you!”
His Present Comings: Jesus comes to us again and again as we face the challenges, disappointments, sorrows, and perplexities of this world. Sometimes He comes to deliver us, and sometimes He comes to sustain and strengthen us.
When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the fiery furnace, they replied: “… the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, … But even if He does not, … we will not serve your gods.” When they were then thrown into the fiery furnace, what the king saw bewildered him greatly: “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire? Look! I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” The “fourth” is believed by many to have been a pre-incarnate appearance of Christ. But even if it was through the agency of one of His holy angels, God came. He delivered them. However, the greatest testimony of these three men’s lives was not their deliverance: it was their declaration of their unconditional loyalty to their God and their absolute trust in His wisdom and goodness: “But even if He does not …!”
When our youngest son John had leukemia twice in the nineties, in our desperation for God’s help in processing this grave situation, my wife Becky and I felt led to continually read and meditate on Psalm 91. The entire psalm was a source of strength over a period of eight years. We had no assurance that John would live, but we sought to hold onto these words from that psalm: “I will be with him in trouble.” We knew that God may not deliver him out of trouble, but He told us that He would be with John “in trouble.”
Jesus may not always deliver you from difficult, even tragic situations, but He will “never leave you nor forsake you.” He will always come!
His Second Coming: Jesus will come to gather to Himself all who belong to Him.
Jesus says: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit on the throne of his glory.”
The Apostle Paul vividly describes that glory-filled day: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.”
And in The Revelation, the Apostle John tells us that all the pain of this world will be over: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning or crying or pain: the first things have passed away!”
In the final chapter of Holy Scripture, three times our King speaks of the imminence of His coming. He says, “Behold, I am coming soon. … Behold, I am coming soon. … Surely, I am coming soon.” And we, whom He calls His “bride,” cry out in reply, “COME!” With the Apostle, we say, “COME, LORD JESUS!” This will be our unceasing prayer until He comes again!
Dear friends, our Savior came for our redemption. He continually comes to help us in our present condition. And soon He will come again, and “… we will be like Him” – full of goodness and truth and the beauty of holiness!
Adventus! It’s The Story of the World! It is to be the story of your life and mine!