Rumblings from the Pastor’s Study:
“…we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” Romans 8:23b
There is a lovely and simple Advent hymn in the newly published Presbyterian hymnal entitled While We are Waiting, Come. Pretty much that’s the first verse of the song as well—“While we are waiting, come/ While we are waiting, come/ Jesus, our Lord, Emmanuel/ While we are waiting, come.” And as simple as it is, it pretty well sums up all of what Advent is about, for Advent is about waiting—waiting for what began in Bethlehem on the first Christmas centuries ago to be finished, in us, and in the world.
Paul often talks about this ongoing process of being saved as he writes his letters to the churches—it’s even in the language he uses occasionally, such as in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Now what does Paul mean by this? Certainly he believes that as soon as someone has encountered Jesus in faith and has believed in trust what God has done in Jesus, that person’s sins are forgiven, and judgment taken away. This is not something that has to wait until we get good enough for it to happen—it’s what faith in God through Christ brings about immediately. But that being said, there is part of salvation that is a process—that we do have to wait, and even struggle for, as again Paul writes in Philippians 2—”Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” And Advent, much as is Lent, is a time for us to consider that work.
We all know that we are not right—not completely. Every single day, something in my thoughts or words or actions betrays me as an unfinished project. I hurt someone with a cutting remark; I ignore someone I should not; I spend too much thought and time on things which are, ultimately, of no significant value and may even be spiritually detrimental to me. By these things and a million others I know I am still a work in progress, still working out the details—some of them very large details—of what God in Christ intends me to be. And the same goes for the way I, and I suspect, we, see the world around us—far from finished, except perhaps in a cynical and negative use of that word, with pain and hurt and hatred at almost every hand, division and disorder seeming to reign everywhere.
Which is why Paul writes what he does in Romans. We long to be right, to be finished—we long for redemption—for a finally worked out salvation—and so does the world around, the creation that along with our hearts, groans to be what it could be. But it has not. It has been promised, but obviously, has not come yet, not completely—not even close to completely. But Paul continues at Romans 8. As we wait for this fullness of salvation, he writes—as we work to make what God desires in us more obvious in our lives, groaning inwardly when it fails to be—we nonetheless wait in hope. And we wait in hope because God entered our world in Jesus Christ.
And that’s what makes Advent what it is—a time simultaneously to grieve what is not yet, and a time to seek what God has promised to do in us through Christ, and a time to look ahead in hope—to look forward to the day assured when Christ comes for the second Advent, and we no longer wait for fulfillment, but see it everywhere in us and about us. We look forward to that day to come, striving to shows its possibility right now, until the day when we will no longer need Advent—when we will no longer hope—for all will be accomplished by the power of God—when the Savior who arrived as a baby in love to ransom our hearts and bodies will reign fully in love, redeeming every body and every soul and all creation, lifting up every heart.
In Christ’s love, Pastor Steve.