Remember What is Yet to Come
Theme: In all things, God… (Romans 8:28)
Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-55)
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
who has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.
God has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
The Lord has shown strength with his arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember the promise of mercy,
the promise made to our forebearers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Are you ready? Is the anticipation building? Are you excited at the prospect of what is to come?
When I was a child, I remember sitting with my grandfather on Christmas and listening to Handel’s Messiah on the radio. In fact, Handel’s Messiah is one of my favourite things about Christmas. In my younger days, I sang it in a concert choir. Tickets to a performance is one of my wife’s go-to Christmas presents for me. And I’ve even been able to get my teenage son to listen with me.
One of the reasons I love the Messiah is that it is a true representation of the wholeness of Advent. The first part speaks to the coming of Jesus; the Old Testament prophesy, his birth and the promise of God’s grace for us. Phrases like “For unto us a child is born…”, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth…”, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd…” It clarifies for us that the coming of God to earth is good news, with the promise of freedom from the pain, sorrow and burdens of this fallen world. For many of us, this is what we think of first when we think of Christmas.
The second part of the Messiah draws us into the crucifixion of Jesus, the clash of his mission with the powers of this world who oppose God. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…”, “All we like sheep have gone astray…”, “And with his stripes, we are healed…” The second part ends with the majestic Hallelujah chorus, proclaiming the victory of God through the resurrection of Jesus. “For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns, Hallelujah!” Living on this side of Easter makes the crucifixion and resurrection part of the Christmas story as well. Jesus participates in the whole human experience – including pain, suffering and death – so that we can participate in his resurrection from the dead.
It is tradition during a performance of the Messiah for the audience to stand during the Hallelujah chorus. The story is during the very first performance, King George was so moved by the music he rose from his seat (and of course, if the king stands, so must everyone else). But there’s also an apocryphal version of that story, where it is said that the king stood because he thought the performance was over (and to be fair, the Messiah was much longer than typical choral arrangements of the time). We often think of Christmas that same way. We celebrate Jesus’ birth and remember his death and resurrection, and we end the story there.
But there is a third part to Handel’s Messiah. It speaks of the return of Jesus and our participation in his resurrection. “I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand on the earth at the last day.” “Behold, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.” Finally, the Messiah ends with Revelation 5:12, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and blessing!”
This is the culmination of Advent as well. The first coming is just that – the first coming. To truly celebrate the first coming requires us to remember with anticipation the second coming. Without the return of Jesus, Christmas is woefully incomplete. It’s only half a story. It leaves us in the midst of this fallen world without the real, tangible hope that only comes when we remember the whole story. The fulfilment of the promises proclaimed by Mary at the beginning – the casting down of the mighty and lifting up of the lowly, the filling of the hungry and sending away of the rich empty – will be completed when Jesus returns.
In the midst of everything this fallen world throws at us, let us be excited this Christmas, not just for the beginning of the story, or even the middle, but let us remember with anticipation the end which is yet to come:
Then I heard a loud voice call from the throne, “Look, here God lives among human beings. He will make his home among them; they will be his people, and he will be their God, God-with-them. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning or sadness or pain. The world of the past has gone… Behold, I am making the whole of creation new!”
Grace and peace,