The Anticipated Christ

Three years ago I wrote a Lenten devotional, The Unvarnished Jesus. Now I’m happy to announce that I’ve written an Advent and Christmas devotional, The Anticipated Christ. These forty-two devotions take the reader on a journey from the first Sunday of Advent through the twelve days of Christmas and to Epiphany on January 6.

I would like to share with you the introduction and the first devotion to give you a sense of what the book is like. I pray The Anticipated Christ will enrich your experience of Advent and Christmas.



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Ours is a secular age. The sacred is pushed to the periphery. To keep the sacred at the center of our lives is a heroic act of defiance. To be a religious person in an irreligious world may be the last act of rebellion. I advocate such rebellion. I reject the trite aphorism, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” Of course, I’m spiritual, we all are, but I’m also religious — or at least I seek to be. Amorphous spirituality too easily becomes little more than a mood with a sprinkling of “wellness” techniques. I need something more rigorous, something more deeply rooted, something that draws upon the deep wells of ancient wisdom and practice. This is what we find in the Great Tradition of the Christian faith.

Part of what we find in the Great Tradition is a sacred calendar — a way of marking time through the course of the year by telling the gospel story of Jesus Christ. We have a secular calendar to coordinate our lives within a secular age, and we have a sacred calendar to form our lives through the gospel story. And, yes, a couple of holy days from the sacred calendar are firmly entrenched in the secular calendar — Christmas and Easter. But the way the sacred calendar and the secular calendar approach these holy days is quite different. In the Christian calendar Christmas is anticipated by four weeks of waiting. This is Advent — a word derived from a Latin word meaning “arrival.” During Advent we await the arrival of the Messiah of whom the Hebrew prophets spoke. During Advent we allow the messianic poems of the Hebrew prophets to seep deeply into our soul. With Isaiah and the great company of Hebrew prophets we wait for the one who will bruise the serpent’s head. We wait for Immanuel — the one who is God with us. We wait for the ruler to arise in Bethlehem who will shepherd God’s people. We wait for the child born unto us upon whose shoulders the government will rest; we wait for the Prince of Peace in whose kingdom the lion lays down with the lamb. Advent is about waiting — a practice most of us in our secular age struggle with, but a holy practice we would be wise to cultivate.

During Advent we also visit the New Testament stories that precede the birth in Bethlehem. Stories like Zechariah and Gabriel in the Temple, the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, the Annunciation, the Magnificat, and the birth of John the Baptist. All these prophecies and stories set the stage for Christmas to arrive with full force. And when Christmas does arrive, it’s not a one-day celebration — the birth of Messiah is far too big an event to celebrate for a mere day. No, Christmas is a twelve-day feast during which we meditate on all the marvelous stories surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ that help us explore the meaning of the Incarnation. And after the twelve days of Christmas have run their course, we arrive at Epiphany where we celebrate and contemplate the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, as the Magi come with their gifts to pay homage to the child born King of the Jews. This is what the six-week journey from the first Sunday in Advent to Epiphany is about. It’s a journey out of secular banality and into the sacred mystery of the Incarnation.

I encourage you to read The Anticipated Christ as it is intended — don’t fly through it in a day or two. Instead, read each meditation on the indicated day and read it slowly. The demand of the secular “Christmas Season” is to be in a great hurry, but the aim of Advent is to instill a quiet slowness into our soul. Each day’s meditation begins with a brief reading from Scripture, followed by a three-page reflection, and concludes with a one or two sentence prayer. It doesn’t take much time to read each day’s selection, the challenge is to read it slowly. You can probably speed through it in three minutes but see if you can find a way to spend ten minutes with it. The richness will be revealed in the slowness. During Advent try to feel Israel’s centuries-long wait for the promised Messiah. Let the anticipation build. And when we reach Christmas, don’t take down the tree and pack away the decorations on December 26 — the party has just begun! Join with the angels and the shepherds and the wisemen and Simeon and Anna and all the rest in the unbounded joy that comes with the birth of Christ.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

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First Week of Advent

The Proto Gospel
Genesis 3:15

The Bible tells a big story. Holy Scripture is a sacred saga of more than a thousand pages that takes us from creation to new creation, from paradise lost to paradise regained, from the Garden of Eden to the garden city of New Jerusalem. In every epic drama there are antagonists who threaten goodness and menace justice. In Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Sauron, Saruman, Gollum, Wormtongue, and a host of other villains imperil Middle Earth. In the Bible we find the likes of Pharaoh, Goliath, Nebuchadnezzar, King Herod, and Pontius Pilate among the villains who are in league with the very embodiment of evil itself — the devil. It’s with these enemies that the heroes of the Bible — Moses, David, Daniel, John the Baptist, and most of all Jesus — must struggle and prevail. The Bible is not really an encyclopedia of God-facts or a journal of divine jurisprudence, it is primarily the epic story of God’s ultimate triumph over evil. Admittedly there are moments in, say, Leviticus or Numbers, where the plot seems lost, but it’s always found again and the Great Struggle continues.

The main antagonist in the Bible story first appears in the third chapter of Genesis. After two creation accounts where everything is declared “very good,” a cunning serpent enters the story. We’re not told who the serpent is or where it came from — it just appears. (The Bible offers almost no account of the origin of evil.) The serpent gives humanity deceitful advice that leads to a catastrophic exile from paradise and ultimately from life itself. Only much later, toward the end of the New Testament, is the deceitful serpent in Eden identified as the devil. The point of the story is that evil has arrived and now must be contended with. The drama of the biblical story has begun.

The story tells us that the Creator enters Eden to pronounce judgment. From now on, human life will endure painful labor and fruitless toil and will end with an inevitable return to the dust. Every human story will come to an end at a grave. The chapter concludes with Adam and Eve exiled from paradise. Only three chapters into the Great Story tragedy has arrived. But in the judgment the Creator pronounces upon the serpent, there is a faint glimmer of hope. Someday the Seed of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. We don’t know who the Seed is or when he will arrive or how he will prevail, but the story does foreshadow a hero who, though wounded in the process, will bring to its demise the origin of evil. Christian theology calls this foreshadowing the protoevangelium — the proto gospel or the first good news. As Adam and Eve are subjected to death and exiled from Eden, there is the foreshadowed hope that someday a man born of woman will triumph over sin and death. This is the messianic hope. This is the anticipated Christ.

Creator God, as we enter the season of Advent, may our hearts cultivate the blessed hope that your goodness, O God, is infinite and eternal, while evil and death are but finite and temporal. May we hold to the gospel hope that in the triumph of the Seed of the Woman, evil and death meet their demise. Amen.