By Ps Lim Wei-en
This weekend marks not only our long-awaited return to regular physical worship services, it also marks the start of Advent.
Advent (from Latin Adventus, meaning “coming”) is a season of four weeks before Christmas in which we are invited to prepare our hearts in expectant waiting for Christ who has come and will come again.
This year, we observe Advent in troubling times. COVID-19 has not only wiped out over 1.3 million lives worldwide at the time of writing, it has also led to rampant unemployment, poverty, starvation, stress and anxiety, exploitation and many other ills on a global scale. While most of us in Singapore have been spared from the more severe negative effects of COVID-19, we have all been affected by it in one way or another. As such, unlike previous years, this Advent season leading to Christmas will not be a festive one for many of us.
And yet, on further reflection, Advent turns out to be a most appropriate way to close out this troubling calendar year because of what it points us to.
Advent and self-emptying. We are no doubt going through a season of want rather than plenty. Because the economy has suffered, many of us have had to watch our spending and reduce our year-end leisure and shopping expenditure. Some of us may even have had to give up our plans and possessions completely to make ends meet. In this season of “self-emptying”, we remember Christ, who in his first advent, “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7) by exchanging his divine state for an earthly life. In the process of his self-emptying, he subjected himself to human experiences of temptation, weakness, pain, sorrow, and finally, death. May we who are going through a season of self-emptying, therefore, be assured that we have One who understands what we are going through.
Further, Christ’s self-emptying was not without purpose. He became empty that we who believe in him may be filled with new life. Though he was rich, he became poor, so that through his poverty, we may become (spiritually) rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). We may have had to give up material comforts in this season, but we can take heart that as we put our faith in Christ, we will never be robbed of the immaterial, spiritual blessings that he has bestowed on us (c.f. Ephesians 1:3, 1 Peter 1:3-5).
Advent and longing. The extensive COVID-19 restrictions have stirred in us many longings. We long for a vaccine so that we may be immunized from this deadly virus. We long for a return to a “normal” state of life in which we can move about and socialize freely with others. We long to be free from the inconvenience of wearing masks when outdoors. We long to travel overseas once again…
Advent, too, is a season of longing – for Jesus’ second coming through which he will usher in a new heaven and a new earth. As we look forward to the second advent of Christ, we long for a time when there will be no more death, crying or pain (Revelation 21:1-5). We long for creation to be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God (Romans 8:20-21). We long to be clothed with our imperishable, immortal, resurrection bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 53).
While the former (our temporal longings) is real and should not be denied, it is clear that the latter (our eternal longings) is of even greater significance. As Paul states in Colossians 3:4, “when Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” Surely, there can be no greater longing than to be with Christ in glory! Advent thus puts our earthly longings into perspective, and teaches us to reserve our deepest longings for the things of heaven instead of the things of this world.
Advent and true peace. In times of trouble, we tend to grasp for anything that promises us a sense of peace. This pandemic has been no exception. From unproven methods of guarding against COVID-19 to false rumours concerning its cure, from innovative strategies to help our ailing businesses stay afloat to sound advice on how to survive financially, people everywhere have reached out to various sources to find peace.
Yet, true peace is a gift that can only come from Jesus, the Prince of Peace (c.f. Isaiah 9:6). Through his first advent, he secured for us peace with God through his substitutionary death on the Cross (c.f. Isaiah 53:5). Through his second advent, he will usher in eternal peace through his vanquishing of his foes and his establishment of his Holy City (Revelation 20-22). Because of this, he alone is able to give us a sure and certain promise of peace in times of trouble: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27).
May God help us grasp the spiritual significance of Advent for these troubling times. In our earthly troubles, may we take comfort from what he done in his first advent, and wait in expectant hope for what he will do in his second advent.