Christ is Coming Back, and Advent Is Coming with Him
This morning as I was returning from my morning walk, I saw our dog Radar, a personable Corgi-Chihuahua mystery-mutt, playing in the front yard. With his elongated body, short legs, and white fur with orange splotches, Radar looks like an agile cross between a cow and a dachshund, leaping to and fro. (I have yet to figure out which nook along the fence Radar uses to let himself out of the back yard, but he is wondrously found in the front yard almost daily.) Walking steadily, I was still almost 100 yards off, and I saw Radar, but he didn’t yet see me. I kept on walking closer.
When I was only 30 or so yards from the driveway, Radar saw me. He leapt to attention, and started barking. He saw someone coming—a scary figure indeed—but he couldn’t tell who it was.
Then I called out, “Raaaaa-daaaaar!” Radar’s demeanor changed instantly. He recognized my voice, and started running out to meet me with jubilant speed.
What does all this have to do with Advent? Let me explain. When Radar leapt up and ran out to meet me after hearing my voice, several things leapt up into my mind, and they all connect to each other and to Advent.
- (Note: if you are in the habit of tuning out whenever Clifton begins a sentence, “St. Thomas Aquinas says…,” skip down to #2 below.) St. Thomas Aquinas, when asking whether God’s existence is self-evident, answers that God’s existence is self-evident in itself (i.e. God knows that God exists), but not self-evident to us. We can know that God exists through reason, on the basis of the existence of the world/universe/cosmos etc., reasoning from the existence of the effect (the world) back to the existence of the cause (God). (cf. Rom 1:19-20.) But it is very possible for humans to be confused or even wrong about whether or not God exists. Aquinas nuances his answer like this: “To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude. For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known by him. This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching; for many there are who imagine that man’s perfect good which is happiness, consists in riches, and others in pleasures, and others in something else.” Our dog Radar knew that someone was approaching, but did not know who. This shows the way most humans (those who have not suppressed this knowledge by force of erroneous habit, either individual or societal) have a general and confused knowledge that God exists—they know Someone is approaching, they just don’t know who. Like Radar, they get a little worried by this Someone: is it a kind person bearing doggy treats, or a dangerous hostile intruder smelling of foreign dogs or even cats?
- Jesus says that “the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…. [T]he sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” (Jn 10:3-4) We know the voice of the Good Shepherd. As soon as we “hear” the voice of Jesus, we no longer worry if the unknown Someone approaching is good or bad: we know the love of God, and so we know the goodness of God. When Radar heard my voice, he was no longer worried. He instantly and joyfully RAN out to meet me.
- “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming.” The first Sunday of Advent is the first day of the Church year—and the main thing about Advent is that it is a preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. The biblical texts earlier in the season of Advent prepare us for Christ’s second coming—his return in glory with all the angel armies—a future event about which we know neither the day nor the hour. In relation to this expectation, Advent trains us to wait, to anticipate, to be ready for the unexpected sudden arrival of the Lord. The readings early in Advent instruct us to keep our lamps lit late into the night, to bask in light by prayer and fasting, awaiting the chance to wait on Christ. The later we sojourn into Advent, though, the more the character of the readings changes. We move from anticipating Christ’s glorious return to joyfully awaiting Christ’s humble birth, his first coming 2000 years ago, and the salvation it will bring to the world.
Naturally, during Advent, we Christians become very eager. Like Radar, we hear the voice of our approaching Master, and run out to meet him, full of joy and eagerness. We can’t wait to celebrate his arrival in the flesh, his saving dwelling among us (John 1:14). The world does not know the voice of the one we run out to meet, and is a little more apprehensive about the distant Someone approaching. This is understandable. But may our joy prevail—may it prevail in our own hearts, in our families, in the Church, and may it prevail throughout the world.
Clifton Stringer is the pastor of Lakehills United Methodist Church in Lakehills, TX.