The Bible begins with an Advent. After Adam and Eve sin, they hear the “voice of Yahweh walking in the garden in the Spirit of the day,” coming to confront and judge and promise a deliverer. The Bible ends with another Advent, a coming of Jesus after the coming of Jesus. The very last words of Revelation are a prayer for Advent: “Yes, I am coming quickly,” Jesus says. And the Spirit and Bride respond, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
Every judgment and deliverance in between is an arrival. God comes down to see the tower on the plains of Shinar, to scatter and confuse language and lip. He comes with plagues to Egypt, the kinsman redeemer of his enslaved son; he comes to Sinai to write his law and give his Torah to Moses; he comes to dwell in his tent among the tents of Israel. When Israel suffers under various minor tyrants during the time of the judges, they pray for a new exodus. Their cries are cries for Yahweh’s coming.
The Psalms include celebrations of Advent. “He is coming. He is coming to judge the world” (Psalms 96, 98). David prays, “Oh, that Israel’s salvation would come out of Zion” (Psalm 14). Only Yahweh’s coming will answer David’s prayer, since he alone can “restore his captive people” to make Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad. The Hebrew is yiten mizzyon jeshuet-yishrael (“Let him give from Zion the salvation of Israel”), which treats “Israel’s salvation” as virtually a name for the Lord who comes from Zion. A Christian reader cannot help but notice the hint of the one named Savior (jeshua), a gift from Zion to restore captives, the one whom we follow (in the words of N. T. Wright) as Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord.
Every act of revelation is likewise an Advent. When Ezekiel says that the “word of Yahweh came to me, saying,” he is not merely claiming to be inspired. “Word of Yahweh” isn’t a speech but a speaker, one might almost say, a hypostasis. After a long fast, Daniel sees a man who looks like lightning. In response to this theophany, Daniel falls into deep sleep with his face to the ground and receives a long prophecy about a great tribulation of Israel.
The coming of God’s kingdom in Jesus sums up and brings to full expression all of Israel’s Advents. Jesus comes to cast out demons, comes to a new Sinai to teach his Torah, comes as the Word of the Lord to speak peace. He comes as the Bridegroom for his bride. He comes for the judgment of the world and to cast out the prince of this world. Everything the Lord promised, everything Israel hoped for, everything the world needs, is summed up in the Lord’s Advent.
God doesn’t save or speak from a distance. Communion with him is life, and so we are saved when he comes near. We are saved by the power of God only because we enjoy the presence of God. He reveals himself as Savior by coming in person.
He hasn’t stopped coming. God came in many portions and many ways, but in the last days he came through his Son. That was the definitive coming after which Jesus can say, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Yet we anticipate further Advents—not only his final coming but many Advents for rescue and deliverance, from now to the end of days. Our hope is still and always hope for his arrival.
Advent 2015 finds the world more than usually distressed. The Middle East has long been a powder keg, but ISIS seems to have lit the fuse. Europe is bursting with refugees, while Russia spats with Turkey and keeps its hold on Crimea. Terrorists attack a concert hall and restaurants in Paris and a social service center in San Bernardino, and when terrorists aren’t killing Americans, we’re killing each other.
This doesn’t falsify the good news of Jesus’s Advent. It means we are left where we have been since our father was driven from Eden: distressed yet hopeful, awaiting Advent.