“For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep” (ESV).– 1 Thessalonians 4:15
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul comforts the church with the future return of Jesus. Some of their friends had died. Would they get to celebrate in the new age with those alive in Christ? Paul tells them to grieve with hope because Jesus is coming again, and those who have “fallen asleep” will rise to a new life in Christ. The Greek word he uses for Christ’s coming is parousia (παρουσια). When the Greek was translated into Latin, parousia was rendered adventus. The Latin adventus then lends its name to the season around Christmas in which we celebrate the coming of the Lord, Advent.
The season of Advent gives us the explicit opportunity to contemplate and celebrate the coming of the Lord in Jesus of Nazareth.
We often associate Christmas and the Advent season with nativity scenes. That is the obvious tangible focus of Advent. It is the scene that resonates with children and adults alike. The mother and baby sheltered in a stable because there was no room at the inn. The angels singing to the shepherds in the field about the the glory of God made manifest in this little baby. The magi who visit from a far off land bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Before one even comes to the theological import of the nativity narrative, the story is one of the most powerful ever told.
However, we should consider more than just Christ’s coming on that night long ago in Bethlehem. In a famous sermon on the Advent, Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) celebrates the three comings of Christ.
“We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.”1
There is the coming we generally celebrate at Christmas, Jesus coming to earth as a baby in a manger. There is also the visible return of Jesus at the end of this age. I admit that I do not associate Jesus’s second coming with Advent. I often associate that second coming more with the Easter season. However, it is an interesting angle on Advent to anticipate Christ’s future return.
I am most intrigued by Bernard’s third invisible coming of Christ, the coming of Jesus into our own lives and our hearts. It means everything for my salvation. As Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Considering our salvation in Christ, we praise him for the grace that has been shown to us. The felt result of Christ living in us is peace. There is peace with God and peace knowing our ultimate future in Christ. This is the note Bernard lands on.
“Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.”2
When we come to the
Advent wreath, it should not be an empty ritual. The words often read as we
light the candles in churches around the world should affect us deeply. They
tell of Jesus, who has come in spirit and in power into our lives.