There is a great difference in excellency, usefulness, and comfort between people of clear, digested knowledge, and confused, undigested apprehensions. -Richard Baxter

Advent musing, II

if you’re looking for reasons why to make time for preparing and participating in the Lord’s Table, here’s my take on how the observance of Advent almost requires it.

Do you remember ever reading the play by Samuel Beckett entitled Waiting for Godot? It’s the story of two hapless nobodies waiting for one who ends up never coming. The play ends where it begins, on a broad plain by a dead tree, and the scene never changes. And at play’s end, we are left not in admiration of these two poor sops’ patience, but in pity of their willingness to wait for what seems will never come.


Advent is an extended celebration of the coming of Jesus, but it’s also an exercise in waiting, in waiting with expectation for things not yet seen but clearly spoken of. It’s a time of focusing our attention on realities still at a distance but with implications for how we live in our present circumstances.


Ex. 3:1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Luke 20:27 There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.”

Luke 20:34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.


Before the Lord calls Moses into the service of delivering Israel from bondage, He reveals Himself in a startling sight of a bush aflame but not consumed.


Moses turns aside—that is, he pauses and gives all his attention—to this sight. And there the Lord reveals that Moses is in the presence of what is holy and what is therefore due the utmost respect and deference. But the Lord also reveals that He is the God of Moses’ fathers and the fathers of all the nation: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.


The Lord discloses Himself to Moses to persuade Him of His steadfast, covenant faithfulness, but also to prepare him for service. It will be one of many disclosures meant to strengthen Moses as he waits for God to fulfill His promises.


Jesus brings attention to this moment towards the end of His own earthly ministry. In so doing He brings attention to a reality meant to cause us to wait for God in a certain way.


The Sadducees were the Jewish ruling class, and in an attempt to discredit Jesus by trying to catch him in what seems like a theological contradiction, they pose to Him a question about the Law of Moses, marriage, and the belief in resurrection.


If the Law of Moses required the brothers of a dead husband to marry their dead brother’s widow; and if that poor widow saw husband after husband meet with an untimely death; and if the Law stipulates that marriage is to be between one man and one woman—then how can there be a resurrection since all the men who would’ve once been married to that woman would now be alive? Wouldn’t resurrection inevitably create an infraction of God’s Law since now there would be multiple husbands for one wife?


Jesus clears up the confusion the Sadducees were trying to create. But in answering their question He makes a larger point that challenges their unspoken assumption.


There’s no need to concern themselves with marriage in the resurrection age. We won’t be marrying in that age.


But more importantly resurrection is indeed something in which to believe and therefore something in which to find hope. It’s a reality spoken of even by Moses, the one whom the Sadducees just affirmed as an authority.


If God reveals Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then they are not merely names of those who once believed and now no longer of any significance to God. They actually continue with respect to Him. They are not merely examples of faith—albeit poor examples at times. They are those to whom promises were made by God—promises that have yet to be fulfilled. So the relationship to them and God isn’t through. As Jesus says, all live to Him. They’re not departed from God as the dead are departed from us. They are not out of reach or out of view of God like they are to those who walk the earth.


As surely as the trees now barren of leaves outside this chapel—by all appearance without life—shall bud and bloom in due time, so those who depart and wither away like those leaves shall, Jesus promises, bud and bloom in due time.


And such a promise is made to those found in Him when He comes—both those awake and asleep.


If that’s a promise to us, a promise validated by Jesus’ own resurrection, then we have reason to wait for it with expectation. And we wait with expectation by listening to His instructions for this life.


This is what it means to observe Advent: to turn our attention to His coming to earth, but also to the fact that He will return, and to what shall happen when He does. And to allow that trust in what shall happen to shape what we do now.


For If we wait with expectation, we restrain ourselves from trying to get in advance in our own strength what the Lord promises to provide in His time in His strength. You need not fear what you do not have because He knows what you need.


If we wait with expectation we view our struggles with courage and consolation with the understanding that deliverance is in motion. He may not suspend our suffering, but we need not conclude that He has forgotten us.


If we wait with expectation we celebrate even the smallest blessings of God realizing they are but tastes of a far more lavish bestowal of goodness.


But brothers and sisters, what He asks of us is too hard for us without help. To wait in those ways is too much for our frail and flawed souls. We are as hapless as the two souls in Beckett’s play. And God knows that. That’s why He gave us this table.


This Table, these elements, is where His glory is displayed. It’s where God’s power to bring life from death is recalled. It’s where the strength to wait for such things enduringly and peacefully is replenished.

For the journey to Christmas we need this meal.


For the journey to the realities which Advent turns our attention to, we need this meal.


I do not know how this slight meal can be real spiritual nourishment any more than I know how God can bring a man’s lifeless body back from death, or how He can set a bush aflame without it being consumed. But His word says that that bush burned brightly but did not perish; and that those who believe in Christ shall never die; and that this bread, His flesh, is real food, and this cup, His blood, is real drink.


So turn aside. As Moses needed to be persuaded that day of the glory of God, and as he needed to be persuaded again and again during his sojourn, so, too, do we need to turn aside and be persuaded yet again of His glory, and of how what lives united to that glory shall never see a final death.


So turn aside and receive this meal, for the strength we need to wait with expectation of the unimaginable things spoken of.

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