’Tis the season for baby Jesuses and mangers, wise men and shepherds, as people give a passing acknowledgement to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Carol services will be had, children perform their parts, and we will all go home will rosy cheeks and glad hearts, to mince pies and mulled wine, feeling suitably imbued with the Christmas spirit.
This is Advent—marking the coming of the Son of God into the world. The problem is that it is the wrong Advent. I don’t mean simply that we have layered extra detail on top of the Bible’s story, or that we have likely picked the wrong time of the year—although all that is true—I mean that we have picked the wrong advent event.
The word advent means ‘coming’. The Jesus whose arrival we ‘remember’ at Christmas is coming back. That’s the one we are told to be looking for, counting down to. It will be entirely unlike his first arrival. If you’ve missed the point of his first arrival, here’s how you will experience his second—as Jesus describes it.
Imagine the following scenario: You are getting on with a perfectly ordinary day, dropping the children to school, calling in at the shops, sitting at the desk in work. Suddenly you feel the earth start to tremble, a lorry going past?—no, the rumbling and shaking grows. You run outside, and the sun has grown dark—extinguished; you see the moon a strange bloody colour, the stars seem to be falling as if the very fabric of space is being torn apart. You look up into this writhing mass of darkness where sky used to be, and there is a blaze of glorious light, and an awesome figure on a white horse appears wielding a sword. This is no hallucination or comic book hero. This is the divine judge, God the Son, here to bring judgment and retribution on all who have defied, rejected or ignored him. In terror you watch as the sword falls on enemy after enemy. None stands against him. In unbroken horror you watch as he treads the winepress of the fury of God’s wrath.
You run, claw at the dirt, trying to dig a hole to escape, calling on the mountains to fall on you. You would prefer being buried alive in an avalanche to meeting him.
This will be no ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’—where did he go? Oh, he came before, and offered forgiveness and peace, and hope. He laid down his life, bearing all the judgment rebels deserved. He welcomed rebels to come, giving lots of time and opportunity.
But time has run out. Now he has come to Judge the earth. He offered to bear your judgment, but if you rejected his offer, you’ve missed your chance. Now only judgment awaits.
Yet there is still time—that baby Jesus who lies in the manger grew up to take your Hell at the Cross if you entrust yourself to him. Don’t miss the point of his first coming, for you won’t miss his second coming.
… And now we open another door on our advent calendar… 8 days to go…