HUMBLE: Rejoicing in a sure thing

Advent readings for Dec. 13

• Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

• Luke 1:46b-55

• 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

• John 1:6-8, 19-28

 

I will rejoice greatly in the LORD,

My soul will exult in my God;

For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,

He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness…

— Isaiah 61:10

 

I was first introduced to the Advent season after my family had joined a Christian community whose members were of multiple church backgrounds, the majority Roman Catholic.

I did not grow up observing Advent, so when, soon after Thanksgiving, several of our close friends began to fast (to abstain from some desirable food or other pleasurable activity), I did not know what to think.

They explained that Advent was a church tradition, a time for spiritual evaluation, repentance and renewal in preparation to celebrate the Christmas feast. Preparation for a feast was foreign to me.

On the third Sunday some friends invited us to join them for a small party with a special dessert. Why at a time when most of them were fasting sweets?

They explained that the third Sunday is Gaudete Sunday, that “gaudete” is a Latin word meaning “rejoice” and in the midst of fasting they pause to anticipate the joy of Christ’s coming.

I did not understand. It seemed like they should have been able to wait another couple of weeks if they were seriously taking time to spiritually reset.

Over the years, I have realized that the problem was in my understanding of Advent and Christmas.

Even though we spoke and sang about the newborn King born on Christmas, in my thinking, Christmas was about the birth of the “savior,” about God becoming a man to die for me so that I could go to heaven after my own death. The fact that he was king seemed secondary.

I did not see clearly that the prophecies about Jesus coming to save were as connected to the fulfillment of Israel’s story of deliverance from slavery and the promises God made to them as they were about salvation from Adam’s fall.

I didn’t understand that the message of the gospel is about God’s King — about his birth, his authority, his victory on the cross over the ruling powers, and his resurrection and ascension to the throne of heaven and of Earth where he now reigns.

The good news is God came in the person of Jesus “for the life of the world” (Gk. “cosmos,” John 6:33, 51), not only to deliver rebellious people but also creation itself from captivity and oppression.

It is wonderful that Jesus died and arose and offers forgiveness to any person who trusts (has faith) in him. But it is aemboldening to know that Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth” now.

Although we live in a broken, unjust, dark, tumultuous world, even in 2020 with COVID and more, Jesus reigns.

While reading the Scriptures this week, allow the promises and spirit of celebration to elevate us to rejoice in what is and what will yet be because King Jesus came and is coming again.

Pay close attention to Mary’s song of joy in Luke 1. Even though Jesus had not yet been born, she was elated because she trusted God. Likewise, at the beginning of his earthly ministry, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1-2a and then declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:16-21)

We too are called to live with our lives centered in the fulfillment, not in the process; from that reality it is not unreasonable to “rejoice always” and to “give thanks in everything” as 1 Thessalonians commands us to do.

Yes, we who trust in Jesus are still in the process of being sanctified entirely; we still stumble and fall and face all sorts of pressure. Yet we are already in the hands of the God of peace who will complete in us what he has started.

In the meantime — 2020 has been a “mean time” for many — we can choose to rejoice because we see God’s good end, not just the present. We rejoice because the great wedding feast is ahead.

We, like John the Baptist, are called to point to the king, reflecting God’s light into the darkness of this present world.

Let us shine with God’s joy because our God is faithful. He will bring everything promised to pass.

Steve Humble serves as an elder at Winchester Covenant Church. He can be reached at 771-7138 or by email at steve.g.humble@gmail.com .