Friday, December 12, 2008

Advent and the Time Foretold

This past Sunday morning, the second Sunday of Advent, I was struck by the last stanza of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear," though I've sung it many times:

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing!

I had rushed in late, after a hectic morning that involved sour cream on Jacob's head and a last-minute bath before church (long story), and so I had forgotten to get a bulletin and song sheet. I didn't know the number of the hymn in order to look it up, and so I just sang along as well as I could from memory. I was suprised that I knew the entire song! (Thank you, hometown church, for the annual caroling to the old folks' houses.)

When I got to the last two lines, I spontaneously broke into a grin as I sang. I couldn't contain the joy inherent in the thought of the whole world proclaiming the glories of Christ our Lord at the New Creation!

Sometimes, when we grow up hearing these hymns and carols, we forget to pay attention to the lyrics and what they really mean.

I'm currently reading a soon-to-be-released book (review coming soon!) that attempts to correct some of the misconceptions we have about heaven, or as N.T. Wright describes it, "the life after life after death." Yes, we go to be with the Lord after we die, but that's not the end! There is another "life" after that-- the one which we will be raised to when Christ returns. So many Christians miss this... The whole earth is groaning now for "the time foretold," when everything will be renewed and Christ will come down from heaven to reign here, over a redeemed world, complete with new mountains and vistas, not just puffy clouds and harps.

And so, as we celebrate Advent this year, we remember not only Christ's first coming as a babe who would one day die on the cross, we also look forward in anticipation to his second coming. On that day every tear will be wiped away, and the whole creation will be renewed along with those in Christ, raised up on the last day to "send back the song which now the angels sing." I love that image!

In case you are wondering about Advent and why we celebrate, there is a fantastic series of articles at The Rabbit Room this year, complete with an introduction on why Christians celebrate and weekly "Virtual Advent Wreath" meditations: Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3, so far.

The photo above is our non-virtual advent wreath, made from the same candles I've been using for the last few years, plus some added greenery and berries that I got at deep discount at Michael's. It's about the only decorations we have up this year, but I don't mind. Advent, I think, is my favorite season of the church year. It must be the expectation, the hopeful longing, that culminates with the sheer delight of Christmas day.


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