This Sunday marks the second Sunday of the Advent season. Though historically neglected by many evangelicals, Advent has made a resurgence in recent years. To that end, we are going to be offering Advent meditations throughout the season here at Mere-O. They will appear the Friday before each Sunday.
Sometimes, the best way to look forward is to look back. The world is littered with monuments to bygone events, historical figures, and heroic actions meant to remind men of their past. The memorial at Ground Zero, the white crosses at Arlington cemetery, the massive marble statue of Lincoln all remind Americans of their history. However, the reminders of the past shape the way the future is pursued. Remembering terrorism’s toll, the staunching of injustice’s rampage with American blood, and the great vision of one president who lifted Americans out of divisive bondage to unified liberty points the way ahead for many Americans: If this is what has been done—if this is who we are—what shall we then do?
Last week, we were reminded that the Advent season is a time of looking forward to the return of Christ just as much as a time of looking back to the first coming, the Incarnation. Seeing the present in light of the future allows us to conform our lives to the goal towards which we are striving. However, the apostle Paul also reminds us that we can see, and be encouraged about, the final coming together of all things by remembering the works of God in the history of His people:
For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
This backward glancing at the scriptures recommended by Paul was a typically Jewish characteristic, memorialized in the erecting of standing stones or the building of stone altars to commemorate an event of Divine condescension on the behalf of the people of God. After the Jews cross over the Jordan River to enter into the land promised them by God they halted their march and erected twelve stones to serve as a reminder that God acted on behalf of His people, He was giving them the land He had promised. So long as the twelve stones stood, the children and their children would see them and be reminded of the faithfulness of God.
Similar examples abound and the message is clear. Looking back upon the works of God reminds us that we serve a God who has has shown Himself to be true to His promises. We American Christians are not alone in the history of God’s people who may feel like the period of waiting for Christ to return has become intolerably long. Before even a century had passed, the first generations of Christians found themselves standing in the center of Roman arenas with lions, being crucified in Nero’s gardens, and being cursed by their neighbors. Had God forgotten them? Or how about the Jews in exile, suffering the just punishment for their disobedience to their King—with the destruction of Jerusalem, how could God be faithful to His promise that the royal line of David should never be cut off? It was at these times and times like them that the backward glance, the retrospective look, provided the patience to endure the trial and the hope that the future promises of God would certainly come to pass.
Future hope in the return of Christ to claim His kingdom and indubitably establish justice is only so much wishful thinking unless their is reason to believe that this hope is true. The message of the scriptures—and of the Advent season in which the tension of standing between the first promise of the long-awaited Messiah and the final promise of His return is particularly pronounced—is that our future hope is sure because past hopes have been fulfilled.