This is the season of Advent within the Church year where we anticipate Christ’s coming. Even though we tend to focus on Christ’s birth, in reality there are three Advents of Christ.
In his First Advent, which we celebrate at Christmas (and for which we are currently frantically shopping), Christ came in the flesh as a humble baby in a manger in order to ultimately die for our sins and then rise to defeat death and to justify us before our Heavenly Father. Jesus came to reconcile us with God by covering over our sins with his righteousness, freely, as a gift to us.
In his Third Advent, which we anticipate, Christ will return at the end of the age in power and glory for the judgment and the resurrection. He will then bring his redeemed Church into the restored creation to inherit eternal life with him.
But, in between his incarnation and his return Christ is still with us in his present, hidden Advent. He is with us now, veiled in Word and Sacrament and accessible only through the eyes of faith. He promised his Church that he would always be with us, and he truly is.
So, Christ is with us in the Word that is written as the Scriptures and proclaimed in our hearing. He is present in this Word and works through the power of the Holy Spirit to create and sustain faith. Paul says in Romans 10 that the “word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” and that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Christ is near us with His Word; he’s still here.
He’s also here in visible form in the Sacraments, which is the Word that we can see and touch. The acting, incarnate Word is acting in the waters of Baptism and in incarnate the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. Through Baptism we are buried with Christ and then raised with him through faith, as Paul says in Colossians (Colossians 2:12). In Baptism, God takes Christ’s work on the cross and the empty tomb and applies it to us, and we receive the benefits of these works of Christ through the faith that the Holy Spirit works in us.
Christ is also present with us in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus Christ took bread and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body which is given for you;” he also took wine and gave it to his disciples saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Christ still gives us his very own body and blood in his Supper for the forgiveness of our sins. He says that he is with us in the bread and wine, and so he is, because his Word is faithful and true. So, we receive Christ in bodily form and “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” as we continually receive the crucified Christ with bread and wine.
Thus, Christ is still with us now in his second Advent. He came once in the flesh, and he is here with us now through His spoken, written, and Sacramental Word. He is still building up His Church through these means of grace, forgiving our sins and bringing us to faith in this promise.
Even in the midst of a world that is plagued by sin, death, and evil, Christ is with us as our shepherd, tending and caring for us, and preparing us a table to give us himself. Christ is with us always, to the end of the age, just as he promised. And when the end of the age arrives – the Last Day – Christ will return for his third and final Advent.
But, until that day comes, Christ is still here, still in our midst, still gracing us with his presence as Immanuel – God with us.
(Image by Allander.Allander at de.wikipedia (Own work) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAllander_Kirche_Altar.JPG )