Ah, Christmas—that joyous, exciting, most wonderful time of the year! It seems that everyone, even the most secular among us, gets swept up in the magic of the season—buying gifts, hosting parties, and decorating their homes. We just can’t wait for Christmas to come!
It’s a funny thing about this season of Advent, though. While most of the world focuses its attention on a babe in a manger, God wants us to focus on three special events. We start the season by looking forward to the time when Jesus will come again in glory as our triumphant King. Then halfway through Advent, our attention shifts to recalling and celebrating that time when Jesus first came among us as a little child. And throughout the whole season, we will be preparing for another coming of Christ—the “intermediate” coming of the Lord into our hearts.
All three of these comings of Christ are vital to our lives. Each of them, in fact, tells us something different about who Jesus is, as well as who we are and what he wants to do in us. So in this special Advent edition of The Word Among Us, we want to take a look at these three comings. We also want to look at Jesus’ invitation to us—an invitation for us to come to him!
The First Coming: Christmas. When we think about Jesus’ first coming, as a child on Christmas Day, we can’t help but be happy. Simply thinking about the manger scene in Bethlehem reminds us of how much God loves us. We feel almost a natural impulse to want to celebrate, to gather with loved ones, and to think about God’s desire to come and be with us. We feel moved to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became a man so that he could redeem us.
While the Incarnation is a very powerful mystery that none of us could possibly grasp, there is still a simplicity to it that even young children can appreciate. This mystery tells us that God, who is omnipresent and omniscient and omnipotent, made a great sacrifice when he accepted all the limitations that come with having a human body. It tells us that God loves us so much that he was willing to give up the glory of heaven and come to us as a helpless infant—all so that he could redeem us!
But there is more to our celebration than the fact that God became a man. Not only did Jesus subject himself to the limitations of a human life, he also submitted himself to death on a cross for our forgiveness and salvation. Christmas can never be separated from Easter. The more we understand the connection between these two great events, the more clearly we will see that Jesus came to set us free, not just to tell us how much he loved us.
When we celebrate this first coming of Jesus, our hearts are drawn to thank God for our redemption and restoration. We are led to praise God for being faithful to his plan to rescue us from sin—even at the cost of his own Son. Through his death, Jesus has restored us to God. He has set us free, and now we can live forever with our heavenly Father!
The Second Coming: The End of Time. While the first coming of Jesus was aimed at our redemption, his second coming will be aimed at bringing us into heaven. In the Book of Revelation, John was given a vision, in which he saw the risen Lord sitting on a throne next to his Father. All the saints and angels surrounded the throne worshipping the “Lamb that was slain” (Revelation 5:12). Later in the vision, John saw Jesus leading his army to a decisive victory over evil (19:11-21). Then he saw a new heaven and a new earth, and he heard Jesus proclaim: “I make all things new” (21:5).
When the vision ended, John cried out: “Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20). Other seers, like Daniel and Isaiah, described their own glimpses of heaven (Isaiah 6:1-2; Daniel 7). Taken together, these visions paint a picture of a heaven that is real, glorious, and closer to our lives than we think. They help us to trust Jesus’ promise that he will come again to welcome us into this new kingdom. We may not know when, and we may not know how, but we believe that he will come. And when he comes, sickness, division, sin, and death will be undone, and we will live forever in his presence.
Many of the Mass readings for the first two weeks of Advent paint pictures of the hope of heaven and Jesus’ promise to return again. They tell us to be on the lookout for signs of this new kingdom (Luke 21:25-28). They urge us to come together and climb “the mountain of the house of the Lord,” where he will rule with justice (Isaiah 2:1-5). They point us to that time when the poor and afflicted will receive all they need and more (41:17). Let these readings fill you with hope and longing. This world is not your permanent home! Jesus has a far more glorious plan for you!
The Intermediate Coming: Today. Clearly, heaven is going to be a wonderful place! But Jesus wants us to know that he has not left us alone while we wait for this new kingdom. We can feel his presence when we pray, when we read Scripture, and when we celebrate the sacraments. He is with us when we are at work or at home, when we are troubled or at peace, when we sleep and when we wake up (Psalm 139:5-12).
Just before he ascended to heaven, Jesus told his apostles that he would be with them, and us, until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). He is with you! If you want to know his presence, then follow these three simple steps:
First, stay awake! The Mass readings for the first few days of Advent urge us to keep watch and pay attention. Jesus wants to come to us, but we have to keep an eye out, or we may miss the signs of his presence.
Second, remind yourself that Jesus wants to come to you. It can be very easy to let the demands of the season cloud your memory of Jesus’ promises and his love. Don’t let that happen!
Third, welcome Jesus in whatever way he chooses to come to you—in prayer, in the presence of a friend, in the words of Scripture, or in the face of someone who needs your help.
This intermediate coming is an open invitation. You don’t have to be a millionaire or a Scripture scholar.
Jesus wants to come to everyone. He doesn’t discriminate based on our performance. He comes simply because he loves us.
A Heavenly Perspective. It is so easy to live only in the moment or with a short-term vision for our lives. It’s hard to plan out five or ten years. But there is a lot of value in letting a long-term perspective balance our day-to-day approach.
The three comings of Jesus can help us form this long-term perspective. If we can step back every now and then and look at our lives from the vantage point of these three comings, we’ll find it easier to stay focused on our true goal, which is everlasting life with Jesus.
Reflecting on these three comings can remind us that God’s plan is still unfolding. It can help us to see that we have a part to play in that plan and that all the saints are with us, cheering us on to finish the race. This “great cloud of witnesses” is watching from heaven. They are urging us to welcome Jesus during this time of his “intermediate coming” and to play our part in the life of the church until Jesus comes again (Hebrews 12:1). The saints are there to remind us that we will be with them one day, cheering on the next generation, until Jesus comes again.
So let’s take some time this Advent to stand back and let this heavenly perspective fill our hearts with hope. This is the best way to look at our lives—not through the lens of our jobs, the challenges of life, or our immediate pleasure but through the lens of God’s great plan.
Come, Lord Jesus! Jesus came as a baby to redeem us. He will come again as Lord and King to bring us to heaven. And right now, he is ready to come into our hearts and be our healer, guide, counselor, and friend.
So as we begin this Advent journey, let’s pray together: “Lord, I love you. I am so grateful that you came to us as a baby so long ago, and I can’t wait for you to come again as Lord. But right now, I ask you to come into my heart and fill me with your love. Come, and let my family know your presence. Come, and pour out blessings on your church. Come, and give us all a deeper yearning for you. Come, Lord, and be our Prince of Peace!”