Advent is a time of both memory and anticipation. Looking back, we remember the coming of God in the person of Jesus; looking forward, we anticipate his coming again. In some church traditions, each Sunday of Advent also has its own focus. On the third Sunday of Advent, for example, some believers light a pink candle to remind them of the specialness of the day: it is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday of joy.
The themes of Advent — whether penitence or joy — are themes of the life of faith, focused on the coming of Jesus. This year, reflecting on the Psalms during the Advent season, I am struck once more with the echoes of the Old Testament in the New. In recent posts, we’ve been exploring Psalms 135 and 136, in which the people are called to praise and bless God for his faithful love. Indeed, the psalmist’s words remind the people that the evidence of that love is already embedded in their collective memory:
Creation itself was an act of faithful love. We should never think of creation as idle pastime, something an all-powerful God did because he was bored. God creates because God loves.
The exodus from Egypt was an act of faithful love. God’s chosen people were suffering under the hardship of increasingly brutal slavery and cried out to him. God saves because God loves.
Bringing the people into the Promised Land was an act of faithful love. The promise had been made long, long ago to Abraham, who saw the land but didn’t inherit it; he could only dream of the fulfillment of that promise for his descendants. God adopts a people and gives them an inheritance because God loves.
And everywhere in the New Testament, we hear echoes of these themes.
We hear it, not only in the language of creation, but of new creation: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17, NRSV). The good news is that God is at work restoring creation to its original goodness, and the sign of that newness can be found in anyone who is in Christ.
We hear echoes of the exodus in Paul’s description of our baptism and redemption:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. (Rom 6:5-7)
We are no longer slaves to sin; we can now give ourselves freely as slaves to righteousness instead (Rom 6:17-19). We can do this because we have been united with Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom 6:4).
And the language of inheritance, too, is echoed in the New Testament. Here’s Peter, giving hope to persecuted Christians scattered about the Empire:
You have a pure and enduring inheritance that cannot perish—an inheritance that is presently kept safe in heaven for you. Through his faithfulness, you are guarded by God’s power so that you can receive the salvation he is ready to reveal in the last time. …Your genuine faith will result in praise, glory, and honor for you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Pet 1:4-5, 7)
Paul, too, uses the language of inheritance and the story of Abraham to explain grace and faith (e.g., Rom 4:16; Gal 3:18). Our inheritance is in Christ (Eph 1:1), and is cause for gratitude and joy, even in the face of persecution:
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Col 1:11-14)
From creation to the evidence of new creation and the anticipation of its fullness. From the exodus from Egypt to our freedom from slavery to sin. From the inheritance of land to our heavenly hope of resurrection life in a restored earth… All of it in and through Jesus, the one who has come and will come again to make good on all that has been promised.
And all of it as a cause for joy, not only on this Sunday of Advent, but every day of every year.