Advent is traditionally the beginning of the church calendar. I’m not interested in church calendars, but I am interested in the themes of Advent, which include expectation, hope, anticipation, etc. In this series, I plan to examine these themes in the time before Jesus’ physical incarnation, while Jesus lived on earth, in modern times, and in eternity. This will probably be quite different from other meditations on Advent. That’s okay. I only hope that God uses my thoughts to encourage you as he has encouraged me.
For this post, I am thinking through the concept of expectation, waiting, and hope in the years between Jesus’ ascension and his return, which I believe is still in our future.
When Jesus died on the cross, his followers found themselves in a time of despire – perhaps even hopelessness. They knew that Jesus said that he was going to die, but they did not understand the significance of his death. When Jesus began to appear before them newly risen, their hope returned! But, again, they did not understand the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. They were ready for their hope to be satisfied.
To them he presented himself alive after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:3-6 ESV)
Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom of Israel? Will you finally push the Romans out of the land? Will you finally take your place on the throne of David? Have we finally reached the end of pain and suffering and oppressions and hunger and death and sin?
And how did Jesus answer their question? He said, “Wait”. He told them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon them. They did not know exactly what they meant, but they waited, and they prayed, and they listened, and they hoped. When the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, they immediately began to praise God for his provision of the promise of the Holy Spirit and to proclaim the good news to all who would hear.
And what wonderful news they had to offer! Although we have been separate from God by our sin, God has come to use through his son Jesus Christ to indwell us with His Spirit! God is no longer simply near us; God is now in us! And you too can have the promised Holy Spirit!
What wonderful news! And, yet, the suffering continued as did the oppression and sin and the death and pain and the hunger. Some of the apostles were killed. Others were threatened. God’s people were forced into exile once again – being scattered from their homes into the regions surrounding Judea. They took the good news with them and the faith spread throughout that area. Even the Gentiles were ushered into God’s family! But, there was still reason to hope, but the promise had not been completely satisfied.
For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:21-24 ESV)
The power and the miracles and the freedom and the changed lives were awesome! The Spirit was working mightily and families and cities were being changed by God. They had peace with God – God did not hold their sins against them, but they had been reconciled to God by Jesus Christ. What a life they lived! And yet, they longed for more. They hoped… they expected… they waited… they anticipated…
For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5 ESV)
So, even as they worked in the power of the Spirit, they waited for the time when faith would become sight. While they relished the relationship they had with God through his Son, they anticipated the day when they would see him face to face. Even as God spoke through them to the peope who would listen, they patiently longed for the day when they would hear his voice clearly themselves.
At times, they waiting became very difficult. Life continued to include suffering and oppression. Poverty was everywhere. Famine struck vast regions. Wars raged. The widows, the orphans, and the strangers struggled with little, if any, relief. Sometimes, they did not even know how to express to God what was going on inside them.
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:23-26 ESV)
We find ourselves living in these days – what Scripture calls “the last days”. We find ourselves filled with the Spirit, and yet hoping for the fulfillment of God’s promises. We are living between the incarnations. Jesus has come, and he has given his life as a ransom, and he has reconciled us to God, and he has instituted his kingdom. But, the final day of the Lord has not come yet. And so we wait… and we hope… and we anticipate… and we expect him to return at any moment.
We have been reconciled to God, and we have been given the service of reconciling others to God. Just like those first followers of Jesus, we work and we wait. We are satisfied and yet we long for more.
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV)