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Between Two Advents

By Michael Roop

A few years back, I stumbled on a Christmas song that was unfamiliar to me. I was captivated as I listened to Frank Sinatra sing the brief hymn I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. And as much as I love Frank, it was the lyrics of the second verse that caused me to tear up, and still do everytime I listen to it:

And in despair I bowed my head
"There is no peace on Earth," I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men

Boy, that resonates, doesn’t it? Once again we approach Christmas without really experiencing what the angels promised those shepherds all those years ago. Where is the peace? Where is the blessing, where is the favor? I see news story after news story of wars, supply chain disruption, inflation, mass shootings, corruption, extremism and polarization, rising levels of anxiety and depression, and on and on. And that only accounts for our moment in history, leave alone the prior 2,000 years.

So what gives? Were the angels just offering some new age feel goodery that will make for nice Christmas-themed mugs and cards? Or worse, were they wrong? When will this age of peace and goodwill finally overtake the darkness and despair that defines our world?

Turns out waiting is a strong theme in Scripture, particularly in the Psalms, which is the prayer and hymn book of Israel. Perhaps no Psalm more directly addresses the theme of waiting than the 25th. David himself is waiting on the Lord (v. 5), and seems to be convinced that failing to wait on the Lord by taking matters into his own hands would amount to giving up his integrity and uprightness (v. 25).

But his opening statement of faith is the one that rings true for me this Christmas: “...none who wait for you shall be put to shame…” (v. 3). This might be why the closing lines of I Heard the Bells is so powerful to me:

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on Earth, good will to men

Everytime I invite us to the Communion Table on a Sunday morning, I remind us of the mystery of our faith. Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ is coming again. We are here, between two advents, looking back to the first for reason to believe the second will come. That the evil so prevalent in our current world will fail in the end. And we can know this because Jesus was born, lived, died, rose, ascended, and “will come in the same way as you saw him go” (Acts 1:11).

And so we hear David’s admonition in Psalm 27:14: “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”

For, truly, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).