The Gospel of Luke begins with two monumental appointments between time and eternity. A messenger of the Lord appears first to an aging man in the midst of his priestly duties, and later to a young, peasant girl in the midst of anticipating the life ahead of her. In each visit, like a gust of wind that turns an umbrella inside out, the message delivered was the sort of news that moves the lives of all who go near it, let alone the worlds of those who heard it first. Both visits incite fear. Both invoke questions. But in the inter - change of the eternal and the temporal, though the promises of God are similarly moving, we find two very different human responses.
Advent is a strange season, strange because it invites us to look forward to something that has already happened. The word "advent" literally means "coming." Advent is a time of waiting, waiting for the birth of a child who was born two thousand years ago.
Is this a flaw in the whole concept of the Advent season? Not at all. In Advent, we don't simply look back and pretend that we are waiting, imagining what it would have been like to wait for the Messiah prior to the Incarnation. We are also meant to truly and sincerely look forward to Christ's second coming.
I've told this story before, but I think it bears repeating. Some time ago I was participating in a Bible study at a drop-in center for homeless men. We had sung a few praise choruses, and after the last one a man timidly raised his hand and said, "I need to get one thing straight; is Jesus coming back or something?" I've never had a greater privilege than imparting this "news" to him, stammering in surprise, "Yes...as a matter of fact he is!"
That may be the closest I'll ever come to feeling like the angel who appeared to the shepherd of Bethlehem, bringing good tidings of great joy. For this man whose life had been a story of abandonment, addiction, sin, and shame, the news that Jesus was coming again to make a new heavens and a new earth was tidings of the very best kind.
The last words of Jesus recorded in our Bibles (in the very next to last verse of the book of Revelation) are a promise and a warning: "I am coming soon!" Because we have this promise as our hope, when we sing, "O come, O come, Emmanuel," we are not simply engaging in a role-playing exercise. It may help us to imagine what it felt like to be Zechariah or one of the other priests whose fathers and their father's fathers had been praying for the Messiah for as long as they could remember. But their waiting is more like ours than it is different, with one great exception: Christ has already come once. This gives us the very best grounds for believing that the prophecies of his second coming will be fulfilled.
This Advent, I hope that you will pray and long for the return of Christ. When you sing these haunting words, let them be your own:
O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Betsy Childs is associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
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"To a group of aspiring high school graduates anxiously waiting to flip their tassels to the other side of their caps, Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, offered the following words of mood-dampening wisdom: "Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time."
His less than cheery list of life's rules, which began notably with, "Life is not fair; get used to it," offered a plethora of hard-hitting advice and a few other stabs of reality. Gates concluded his list with a final shot of truth for the proud graduating class: "Television is not real life," he said, "In real life people have to actually leave the coffee shop and go to work."
Lest we have visions of depressed teenagers walking across the stage to receive their diplomas that night, we should recall that most likely none of them heard a word of the speech anyway. Or if, in between hoping the 20 bobby pins holding their cap in place were not causing permanent scalp damage and visualizing the crowd's gasp as they tripped on the hem of their robe and tumbled into the front row, they did manage to hear a phrase or two, they surely don't remember it now.
It is once again the season of wisdom-filled addresses, Hallmark homilies, and energetic advice giving to people who are not hearing a word of it. Graduation is the occasion, and we are too excited to listen, even if it is Bill Gates.
To be fair, it is not only beaming graduates that exhibit attention difficulties in the midst of life's pomp and circumstance. The only part of the minister's sermon at my wedding that I remember is when he turned to my almost-husband and me and said, "This is the part of the ceremony when I offer you some marital wisdom that you don't hear and won't remember."
Events like graduation come only so often, and often after much work. Like weddings, they usher in times of change and anticipation and call us to attention to life in new ways. No one blames a graduate for not remembering the commencement address or a bride for forgetting the advice given to her as she anticipates "I do." When they fail to hear "The 10 Most Important Lessons in Life" or "3 Vital Steps to Marriage in the Real World" we know they have not failed to see all that is important in life, or all that lies before him in the real world. The opposite is usually true—their minds are abounding with all that they see.
But a graduate that receives the day and his future with disinterest, a bride that looks indifferently at the commitment before her and the days ahead of her, is much harder to understand.
We are prone to these times of assessing life—birthdays and baptisms, weddings and graduations; all seem to require careful attention. And we recognize that to be wholly unconcerned with these moments in life is to be something less than life-like. We gaze at the years ahead and look at the years behind and sense the need to say something profound, to speak into what is gone and what is coming. We see the need to find wisdom in these eventful moments, to see a hope and a future. And it is often such occasions that remind us that those who have found wisdom are particularly blessed.
Unlike much of the commencement advice that is spoken and forgotten, the wisdom of God's Word is wisdom that will not fade, nor speak into our lives passively. It is wisdom worth returning to, speaking hope into the future, bringing meaning into days both marked with excitement and scarred with pain. In times of my own restless wandering, it was often specific psalms and proverbs that kept returning to my mind, calling me to see the foolishness of much of the world's advice and back to wisdom itself, calling me to see with my eyes and ears the very One who made them.
As the proverb imparts, "Eyes that see and ears that hear, the Lord made them both" (20:12). In the season of many events and the many seasons of life, may it be his enduring wisdom we seek. As we congratulate jittery brides and excited graduates with words of wisdom, let us remember that the One who made those overwhelmed ears, the One who made our wisdom-seeking eyes, longs that they would be stirred by his presence. Jill Carattini