But Christ’s coming is a little tricky because, of course, Christ comes to us two times. Christ came two thousand years ago. And at some point Christ will come again in glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead.
Advent is a time to prepare for both comings. We prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s birth, to celebrate with joy the fact that Christ has come. And we do what we can to prepare ourselves for Christ’s second coming, to wait in hope for the coming of the one we cannot see, the one we long to see.
More than any other season, Advent looks in two directions at once: back to the ancient past and forward to an uncertain future. In Advent, we acknowledge the Christ who has come and is here. And we acknowledge the Christ still to come, the one for whom we wait.
That may sound confusing. But we know this. In our lives, we experience both Christ present and Christ still to come.
Sometimes Christ is right with us. The great Christian mystics describe experiences of religious ecstasy when they felt totally at one with God. That is Christ with us in a big way.
I have never experienced anything so dramatic as what the mystics describe. But once while saying Morning Prayer, at a time of anxiety and challenge in my life, I felt Christ with me, and I knew I would be OK because Christ was with me. I will always be grateful for Christ with me in that moment.
But then other times, Christ seems absent. The great Christian mystics talk about that too, about times when they longed for a sign from God and got nothing. They call those times “dark nights of the soul.”
I haven’t experienced anything quite so dramatic as that either. But when I was a young adult, I turned away from Christ. I lost any sense of connection to God. I wasn’t conscious of longing for God in those years. But I was conscious that something was missing from my life, that all was not right with my world. Looking back, I can say that I should have been longing for Christ because Christ was what I needed, and it seemed like Christ was not with me.
Take a minute to think about your own life. My guess is that you have had both experiences as well.
Think first about a time when you knew that Christ was with you, helping you and loving you. Then think about a time when Christ seemed distant or absent altogether, a time when you needed Christ and it seemed like Christ was not there, a time when you longed for Christ’s presence and love.
Advent is about both of those times. Advent is about Christ who is with us and about Christ who is still to come.
At my clergy Bible Study last week, one person said that in Advent we wait for the one who is already here. That is exactly right! We wait for Christ to come. And we know that Christ is already here.
We see this in our readings.
Mostly they are about longing for God at those times when God seems far away.
At the beginning of our Old Testament reading, Isaiah prays, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” Isaiah ends by pleading with God to “consider, we are all your people.” That is the cry of a man who needs God to come closer.
Our Psalm says the same thing. Three times, the Psalmist prays “Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.” God seems far away, and the Psalmist wants, the Psalmist needs, God to come close.
We get the same thing even in the Gospel reading. Jesus is looking ahead to a time when he will have ascended to his heavenly Father. People will be suffering. And at last the Son of Man will come with great power and glory.
When he comes, Christ will make all things right. But until then, we can only long for that day, the day when God’s kingdom will come. Until then, our task is to “keep awake,” to get ready, to wait for Christ to come to us.
We know that longing for Christ, that need for things to be made right.
And we should treasure that longing, painful though it can be. Because that longing keeps us awake. That longing reminds us that we need Christ, that our world needs Christ. That longing is the key to Christian hope, which begins with the recognition that all is not right with our world and yet trusts that Christ will make it right someday.
But thankfully longing is only half the story of Advent.
Like Isaiah and the Psalmist, we look forward to a time when Christ will come to establish the heavenly kingdom here on earth. But we also know that Christ has come, that the work of establishing the kingdom has begun, that Christ is not in fact far, far away, that Christ became incarnate two thousand years ago, that Christ remains powerfully present whenever we gather in his name, that Christ has sent the Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen us, that Christ’s own Spirit lives within us.
And so we do not simply long for Christ to come to us. Someday Christ will come in a new way with power and great glory. But in the meantime, already, Christ is here.
And that is what Paul says to the Corinthians and, through the Corinthians Paul says to us. “I give thanks to my God always for you.” Why? “Because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him…. You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What a claim! We wait. We wait for the revealing of Jesus Christ in power and great glory. But already, even while we wait, we have been enriched with the grace of God, we have received every spiritual gift. Best of all, by God we have been “called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
We wait for Christ to come. AND even now, we know fellowship with Christ who has come, Christ who will never leave us, Christ who is closer to us than we can ever know, Christ who is now and always shall be God with us.
Sometimes Christ seems absent, and we long for the day when Christ’s promise is fulfilled and Christ will come to us. Other times Christ seems right with us. And both are true, all the time! Christ is here, and Christ is coming.
If you are like me, you will be busy in the next few weeks. But I invite you to spend some time reflecting on your experience of Christ here, and of Christ still to come. When you are aware of Christ’s presence, give thanks to God in the name of Jesus Christ. If you have trouble feeling Christ with you, give thanks to God for the promise of Christ’s coming, and do what you can to get ready.
Because Christ is here. And Christ will come. Thanks be to God! Amen.