The Epistle to the Hebrews might not be the first place we turn for Advent readings. We hear nothing of Mary or a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. In fact, Hebrews offers no reflections on the birth of Jesus and just a few (abstract) reflections on his life.
But each of the “comings” that we reflect on during the season of Advent are clearly present in the letter.
Christ Comes into the World
The first arrival that we commemorate during Advent is Christ’s coming into the world. But rather than focusing on the coming in that Little Town of Bethlehem, Hebrews rewinds things a bit. The author of Hebrews presents Jesus as a Great High Priest who offers himself to God (7:27; 9:14). But this is not something that the Father demands of him. Jesus is willing to offer himself. In Hebrews 10, the author lets us hear his voice,
5 “when coming into the world, [Christ] says,
Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
6 With whole burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
7 Then, I said, “Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll–
I have come to do your will, my God. (10:5–7)
Using these words from Psalm 40, the author of Hebrews presents to us Christ’s desire to do the will of God—to make us holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (10:10).
Perhaps for some it would seem unseasonable to refer to the death of Christ. Does it diminish the significance of the Incarnation to turn so quickly to Christ’s work begun on the cross? No, not at all. The distinct contribution of this passage in Hebrews is the reminder that Christ comes united in will with the Father and the Spirit. He is made low (see, e.g., 2:9), made like his human brothers and sisters in every way, so that he might serve as our merciful and faithful high priest (2:17). So it is entirely appropriate to consider the centrality of Christ’s crucifixion, even as we mark his incarnation into the world.
Christ Comes Again
During Advent we do more than look back to the Incarnation. We also look toward Christ’s return. In Hebrews 9:26–28, the author relates the first and second comings, contrasting their purposes:
26 [Christ] has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself….28 he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
He comes to those who are waiting for him. This image of God’s people waiting develops the theme of perseverance presented by the author to his point. In Hebrews 4 the author presents the people as those who need to “make every effort to enter” the promised rest (4:11). They must persist. Later, the author will call them to “run the race with perseverance” (12:1). But here, the faithful are those waiting. They must press on, knowing that Christ will meet them.
In Hebrews 10:36–39, the author also urges them to persevere. To undergird his exhortation, he quotes from Habakkuk 2:3–4. The author says to his audience,
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,
“In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.”
In this interpretation offered by the author, it is probable that Christ is the “coming one” who will offer his people what has been promised.
Christ “Comes” to Us
The final “coming” is probably easiest for us to lose sight of during the Advent season: Christ’s coming into our lives. Here we reflect upon our need for salvation, the light of Christ shining in the darkness of our hearts before we came to faith.
Like the people addressed in Hebrews, we strive to continue on faithfully; however, we can and should remember the days when we too walked in disobedience. But even now, our need for Christ remains. The message of Hebrews is not one of perseverance by our power; no, the message of Hebrews is one of our faith having its origin and its perfection in Christ (12:2). He has come to us, and he will never leave us, nor forsake us (13:5). And so, thanks to Christ’s several comings, we are able to persevere with his aid, looking toward the day when we will see him as he is.