Advent is a time of longing and waiting. Many of us know the excitement and anticipation that a child feels as he or she waits for Christmas morning. We have lived with the excitement growing in our homes for the past month as the kids just wanted this day to come, they wanted to tear open those packages and find out what wonderful things were await for them. And so some were awakened very early today with the hopes that now the paper could fly. And so they should, the presents they received were meant to bring them joy and fun.
And so it was with that same anticipation that men and women awaited the Messiah over 2000 years ago. Luke tells us there was a prophetess named Anna who (Luke 2:37-38) never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them (Mary and Joseph and Jesus) at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
There was a strong undercurrent of expectation in the 1st century before Christ’s birth of the coming of a Messiah who would free the nation from Roman control, who would conquer the evil forces of the world and usher in a golden age when the Law of God would be proclaimed and practiced universally. People longed for physical freedom. They wanted to be free from the demonic forces that were incapacitating their family and friends. They desired to see the health of their loved ones restored. They wanted the crippled, blind, lame and whatever other maladies were afflicting them to be conquered in the name of God. They desired to see the holiness of God brought to the nations, though their concepts of this were much more militant than evangelistic yet there was a longing for salvation.
Today those longings and desires are not much different are they? There is still a longing for freedom in the human heart. In the Middle East and North Africa we continue to see and hear about the pro-democracy movements known as the Arab Spring where people are shaking off dictatorial governments in the hopes of creating new societies. Closer to home, there are those who want to find freedom for the poor by breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition. There is the hope that one-day mental illness will not be a problem and that cancer will be eradicated. There are desires for holiness to sweep the world, though the definitions of this term vary widely from some calling for a return to Victorian ideals, others appealing to shari’ah law and still others calling for complete tolerance as the show of holiness. We have the extreme right desiring to militantly bring peace to the world through bloodshed and the extreme left trying to legislate it via a single world order. Unfortunately the truth about holiness being dedication to God is missing in each of these movements.
Universally people desire purity, righteousness and justice. Cultures are built upon this desire, but apart from God all human efforts to produce these qualities are an allusion and bound to fail. Really, in the last 2000 years the human longings and desires haven’t changed and even the methods are little different. I guess the Teacher was right when he declared, (Eccl. 1:9) What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
In fact, all these same longings from then until now are given words from the disciples themselves when they ask Jesus, (Acts 1:6b) “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” The 12 apostles, even after 3 years of walking with Jesus, even after living through the crucifixion and resurrection had the same longings that they always had. These men wanted to see temporal change because they understood that the world system was broken. Things were not the way they should be. God’s chosen people were oppressed. Evil was rampant. Cruelty persisted, injustice abounded. The rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer and their hope rested on the restoration of the kingdom.
Jesus’ answer to the 12 along with the response of the angels should be very instructive to all who long for the kingdom of God to be made manifest here on the earth. He said, (Acts 1:7) “It is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by his own authority…” And then after a few more words (Acts 1:9-11) he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight…suddenly two men dressed in white stood before them saying, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
There is much for us to learn from these statements of Jesus and the angels. First is that their desires for justice, righteousness and the reign of God isn’t condemned. We, like they, yearn for a better society, a better world where everyone loves his brother and sister and gives of himself to see the reign of God extended in creation. This longing is good and right for it testifies to the brokenness of the present system and looks forward to a better day. So continue longing, waiting and hoping, just as the Jews longed and waited and hoped 2000 years ago. Long in hopeful anticipation, like a child looking toward Christmas; long for the day when Christ will recreate the world. He is coming again!
We also learn that these yearnings of ours will never be met until Jesus Comes Back. God hasn’t determined to give us the world we desire yet. But it is his intention to grant it in the future. Continue to hope – He is Coming. Continue to wait – He is coming! Continue to pray – (Matt 6:10) your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven – He is coming! Advent is a time of longing for the return of Jesus. It is a time for us to reflect on the fact that things are not right, but one day they will be for He is Coming back in the same way the apostles saw him go into heaven! He is coming!
But you know what? The savior is also here. He is not only coming, but he is here. 2000 and some years ago Jesus Christ was born into this world and the angels sang forth (Luke 2:14) “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” I was listening to Handel’s Messiah a few days ago and those words just sing out beautifully in his choral piece, more beautifully then simply reading them. The angels understood the work of the savior who was to come and they sang in jubilant song. He would reign over the house of David as the promised Son of the King, but more than that he would be named (Matt 1:21) Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
The savior to be born into the world was coming in order to redeem men from the clutches of sin and death. This was the first step to fulfilling our longings and God’s desire for a better world. Humans needed to be freed from sin and restored to God by a perfect sacrifice. Jesus was going to be, and in fact, (1John 2:2) He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. He came in order to reconcile, or make the relationship right again between God and man. (Eph. 2:16) and in his one body to reconcile both of them (Jew and Gentile) to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Col. 1:20) and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
This Jesus performed completely and perfectly the work of redemption when he was here and he promised that he would always be with his disciples as a comforter through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of Christ by Paul in Romans 8:9 and Peter in his first epistle 1:11 [Rom. 8:9 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. 1Pet. 1:11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow] comes in order to comfort us and assure us that we are not alone but in fact belong to our faithful savior Jesus Christ. The Apostle John records these words of Christ, (John 14:17b-18) But you know him [The Holy Spirit], for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Our Savior who is coming again, is already here in the midst of his people performing the work for which he first came and setting the stage for his subsequent return. And through his presence in our midst, there is power. In fact, in our passage this morning Jesus tells his disciples, (Acts 1:8) You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you. Our savior is an empowering savior, he is a redeeming savior, he is a returning savior, and he is comforting savior. By his wounds we are healed – one passage declares (Isa 53:5). But the true power of the Spirit is the ability to prophesy and declare God’s plans to the nations. 10 times in the Old Testament when the Spirit comes upon people, the power of God is evident through prophesying and in our own passage this morning Christ declares that the Spirit of God will come on people in order that they might be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). This is the spirit of prophecy given to all.
People of God, on this Christmas morning, let us not forget that Jesus is Coming to complete the recreation of this world. But on this Christmas morning, let us also not forget that Jesus is here in our midst comforting us in our pain, redeeming us from our sin and empowering us to proclaim that relationship with God is once again available and death need not have the final say in our life. And let us boldly proclaim to the world that
(Luke 2:11-12) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.