During this season we wait in earnest for Christ’s second coming while we wonder in awe at his first coming. To be clear, the season is not about what we can do for Christ by our work or prayers or fasting; rather, it is about what he has done for us in his work and prayers and fasting—a work that began in his first coming in humility and which will conclude in his second coming in glory.
A Future Orientation
As early as Eden, God’s people have been a waiting people. Following the fall of our first parents, God made a promise that permanently oriented his people toward the future. God told the serpent directly, and the guilty pair indirectly:
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15)
It was, in short, the promise of a coming, conquering son. The promise encapsulated every promise in the Old Testament and, as such, shaped God’s people into a waiting people. This anticipatory posture can be seen throughout the Old Testament, as men and women of faith look forward to what God would do in the future through a promised son. Lamech names his son Noah in the hope that he will rescue the chosen line from the curse of sin and death (Gen. 5:29), yet it is six hundred years before Noah enters the ark at the time of the flood (Gen. 7:6). God promises Abraham that he will make him into a great nation through a son from his own body (Gen. 12:2; Gen. 15:4; Gen. 17:16), but he has to wait twenty-five years for the birth of Isaac (Gen. 21:1–3). Isaac, in turn, has to wait twenty years for the birth of Esau and Jacob, his twin boys (Gen. 25:20, 26). Jacob works for seven years to get his wife Rachel, but in the end is deceived into marrying Leah (Gen. 29:20–30), from whom he receives Judah, the son of the promised line (Gen. 29:35; Gen. 49:10). Naomi has to wait to see if her line will continue, following the death of her husband and two sons. Even when her daughter-in-law Ruth faithfully follows her back to the promised land and pursues Boaz at the threshing floor, they both have to wait to see whether Boaz will be the kinsman to redeem Ruth (Ruth 3:12–18). Their godly patience allows Boaz to negotiate his way into marriage with Ruth, from whom comes Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David (Ruth 4:18–22). It is only in Naomi’s old age that her life is restored (Ruth 4:15). Hannah has to endure years of barrenness, like the matriarchs preceding her, before the Lord opens her womb and gives her a son called Samuel (1 Sam. 1:1–20), the one who would anoint David as God’s chosen king (1 Sam. 16:1–3). However, David’s ascension to the throne does not come immediately. While he is anointed in his youth (1 Sam. 16:10–13), he has to go through several years of humiliation and suffering before his ascension to the throne at thirty years old (2 Sam. 5:4); and God’s subsequent promise to David that his son will sit on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12–16) is not ultimately fulfilled until the coming of his greater son, Jesus Christ—some one thousand years later. Indeed, adding up the ages in the biblical genealogies reveals that God’s promise in Eden of a coming, conquering son takes about four thousand years to become a reality.
For individuals and families, this 40-day liturgical devotional guides readers through Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany—helping Christians retain their focus on Jesus and meditate on the mystery of his incarnation.
Waiting. From the beginning of history, God calls his people to be a people waiting for the coming of his promised Son. New Testament writers capture the relief at Jesus’s arrival after the prolonged wait. Luke the evangelist describes Simeon as a righteous and devout man who has been “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25). Taking Jesus in his arms, Simeon utters words that would become an integral part of Christian liturgy from the early centuries of the church—the Nunc Dimittis:
Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel. (Luke 2:29–32)
The prophetess Anna has a similar experience on the same day, as she gazes upon the baby Jesus. Unable to contain her excitement, she speaks about Christ “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).