Looking Back to See Ahead: An Advent Reflection

Domenico di Pace Beccafumi [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Advent is a time for looking back at what God has done, for reliving the experience of God’s people waiting for God’s salvation to come (as it did in the birth of Jesus). But Advent is also a time for looking ahead, for leaning into our own experience of waiting and longing for God’s salvation to come again in our own time. Strangely, we actually look back in order to see ahead. This is because the bright future that God has is store for us, and that we look forward to in hope, has actually broken in right in the middle of history, establishing itself before its time, in a barn one night in Bethlehem. This is the mystery of Christmas.

It is established. God’s salvation has come. We are God’s beloved children now—free from sin and suffering, free for God and for others. In Christ, our world is reconciled to God and at peace. This means that (in spite of what others or even we ourselves might think) our sins and failings do not have the power to define us. It also means that we can never acquiesce to violence between God’s creatures as an inevitability in our world. By faith, we know that such violence does not belong to our world. Its very existence is that of a lie, an incursion of untruth that we can only negate and repel.

God’s bright future is established as a present reality in the person and work of Jesus. However, for the time being, this bright future-present is largely a hidden reality. It is one that we can only catch glimpses of, and only by faith. We can glimpse it when we look back, back to the barn in Bethlehem where God’s salvation was born into the world. In looking back, we are given a blessed peek at the hidden reality of our present in Christ, and a hope-filled glimpse of what lies ahead—the fulfillment of all our present hopes and longings, the coming again of God’s bright future into this present darkness, the unveiling of God’s salvation in our own time.

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