One of my favorite Christmas hymns is by Charles Wesley titled, “Glory Be to God on High.” It is filled with the rich imagery and phrases that are characteristic of Wesley’s great hymnology: “He sojourns in this veil of tears,” “God the invisible appears,” and “Beings source begins to be.” Yes, this is the season we recall the great mystery of the incarnation. The world is quick to sentimentalize the whole message of Christmas, making it about “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” or “Jack Frost nipping at your nose” rather than the mystery of the incarnation—God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ.
Let us not forget that this is the season of the church year when we remember and celebrate the real, bodily incarnation of Jesus Christ. There are many dimensions of this Advent. It certainly refers to the coming of the second person of the Trinity as the Son of God. He comes into the lowly stable of Bethlehem as the exalted Son of Man, prepared to “raise the sons of earth” to their right status before God. It also refers to the Second Advent when Jesus Christ as the “Son of God and Son of Man” returns: 1) to receive those whom He has called, 2) to judge the world and set all things right, and, finally, 3) to usher in the consummation of the new creation.
However, as we all know, there is a big gap in time and space between the first and second Advents of Jesus Christ. God, in His mercy, has given to us a large redemptive space into which the church is to live out the future realities of the inbreaking kingdom into the present age. We are to be outposts of the new creation in Adam’s world. This happens in ten thousand small ways in tiny corners of the world as God—through His church—bears witness to His righteous rule and reign.
It is into such a world that we all are called to live as children of the light, bearing witness to that True Light which has come—and is coming—into the world. This is, of course, the third way the Advent of Jesus Christ happens in our world. The Advent of Jesus is not isolated to two points in history, the first Christmas and the second coming, but is an unfolding reality whenever the kingdom of Jesus Christ breaks in afresh to a new people.
Perhaps the best way to celebrate Christmas is not merely to look back on the first Christmas, or to look forward to the second coming, but look out into the world and discover new ways in which Jesus Christ can be presented or, in some cases, be re-presented, to the world. The witness of every church should be a little reenactment of the incarnation in seed form. These reenactments are only possible since God in Jesus Christ has set the stage and He remains the central player in this divine drama.
Our job is not simply to wait for the second coming, but to live out his first coming in the present age in countless ways until Jesus returns. If we knew that Jesus were coming back tomorrow, we should still get up and go to our places of work and study because we want to make sure that whenever He does return He finds us not idle, but in the saddle doing the works of Jesus each and every day.