Advent: Jesus then, Jesus now, Jesus in the future
Want to know a secret? I used to think Advent was all about Christmas, and the four common themes of Advent—Hope, Peace, Joy and Love—were symbols reminding us what Jesus brought to this world. While there is truth to what I used to believe, I have come to see that the season of Advent is much more. Advent is derived from Latin and means “to come” or “the coming.” It is a time of waiting with expectation, anticipation, longing and preparation. It reminds us the world yearns for deliverance—a deliverance provided only by the Messiah. It is a time to celebrate that light has come into a darkened world, that hope has arrived in the form of a child, that peace is in our future.
Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas. In 2019, December 1 is the first Sunday of Advent. See, Advent Themes and Symbols, for more details on the themes of Advent as well as descriptions for some of the symbols of Advent.
Bobby Gross, author of Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God, sums Advent up well. “Advent concerns first and last things. It involves looking back and looking forward. In Advent, we ponder the promises of God from beginning to end.” Gross also refers to the three “comings” of our Lord, and Advent focuses on all three.
Jesus’ glorious return
During the first weeks of Advent, Christians around the world anticipate the return of Jesus. The Advent themes of faith, hope, and preparation might inspire us to cry out “Come, Lord Jesus,” in anticipation of that return. However, the reality of the waiting sinks in and week two’s theme might center around peace or waiting, inspiring us to cry, “How long, O Lord?” The season of Advent reminds us our hope is not yet fully realized; the Messiah has come, but we long for his return to fully establish his kingdom. We live in that “not yet” time of expectation. Just as John the Baptist was in the wilderness preparing the way for the Messiah, we work in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus’ return. We have glimpses of what is promised, which serve to intensify our anticipation. We want others to know about the kingdom, so as we share the gospel, we share the good news of Jesus’ return. He is coming; he will restore all good things; he will heal all; he will usher in the eternal kingdom that will be a blessing for all of humanity.
The theme for the third week of Advent is Joy. John said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The Messiah has come, not in the way many expected, but as a child born to a teenaged Jewish virgin. The angels sang songs of praise, the shepherds worshipped, the magi came from the East to worship, Simeon and Anne worshipped in the temple. The birth of Jesus brought a joy that could not be contained. Advent points to the great celebration of God becoming flesh—incarnation—and being called Emmanuel—God with us. Together we sing, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
Jesus living in us
Jesus didn’t come and leave us empty. He lives in us through the Holy Spirit—this is the third “coming” of Advent. This is the great mystery Paul talks about to the believers in Colossae, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The theme for week four of Advent is love: “For God so loved the world…” Throughout the pages of the New Testament Jesus and the apostles write about God’s love and what it means for us to live in that love. We live in him because of his love; he lives in us because of love. He has brought us into the presence of God and to share in the communion he shares with the Father and the Spirit. Jesus came to live in us and let us live in him. This is one of the great messages of Advent.
Jesus then, Jesus now, Jesus in the future. Advent begins the Christian year by looking forward to Jesus’ return and then bringing us back to where it all started. The season is designed to help start the new year focused on Jesus.
 Gross, Bobby, Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009), p. 43.