Advent Reflection 16: Promise

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev. 22:20-21).

And with that, the Bible concludes. We are left on Scripture’s last page with two basic claims about the course of history, the fate of the world: Christ has come. Christ will come again. Between the times is born a people called the Church, an Advent people. The Church stands on the first Advent of Christ and stretches itself out toward the second. That is what makes the Church what it is. We are a people formed in the exact shape of a promise.

God always comes in the form of a promise, every act a promise to act. Every Advent is two Advents, one done and another to come. There was Egypt and there was Canaan, slaves of Pharaoh and the land of giants, but suddenly Egypt was the Exodus and Cannon was the Promise Land. It was the same day a no-people became the people of God (1 Pet. 2:10), a promise-shaped people. Israel was born.

God makes promises in a way that only he can make good his promises, in the space between impossible and nevertheless, between heavy chains and wild honey, between no more life and no more death. Between whence and whither is the world of faith, sometimes called the wilderness, other times just “the world.” The world is the place where God makes faith possible, because the world is the place stuck between impossible and nevertheless, the place of Advent.

So Advent gives birth to a people who point to God in both directions, and we need God in both directions. Too much has been lost and there is too much to lose for God to be otherwise. Creation groans, waves swell, mothers cry, children hurt. If Christ has not come, there is no consolation. If Christ is not coming, there is no hope. The world regularly points in one direction or another, promising to rebuild what once was or to build anew what never has been, but only the Church points in both directions at once. Donald Trump promises to “Make America Great Again.” Bernie Sanders promises “A Political Revolution is Coming.” The world always promises a gospel of yesterday or a gospel of tomorrow, but only the Church heralds the promise of the an “eternal Gospel” (Rev. 14:6). Only the Church has the nerve to point as far back as Paradise and as far forward as forever. Only the Church is shaped like a promise-shaped cross. For us, there is Advent or there is nothing.

But there is not nothing! That is why we are here and why we speak. We are the people sent to the wilderness world to tell the truth about both sides beyond the waters. On one side, there is a slavery too strong to escape, on the other a life too good to be true. There is only impossible on both sides—nevertheless, there is Advent. And it can only be seen as the Advent of God when it cannot be mistaken for the Advent of anyone else. The Virgin asks how the news could be possible, so the angel assures her, indeed, it cannot, not apart from God at least—“For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37). Only when the world can expect nothing to happen is it prepared to receive the happening of God. Advent. The Promise of Advent. Jesus has come. Jesus is coming.

“For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 1:20).

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