Advent and Christmas: God brings change, inside and out
“Oh, that you would rend the heaven and come down!” Isaiah 64:1
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14
Most readers of this newsletter will not be familiar with relentless, grinding poverty, or terrifying insecurity caused by war or uncontrolled violence, or the absence of freedom and choice experienced daily by those in slavery. One important result of being part of the Gafcon movement is opportunities for closer fellowship, based on shared understanding of and commitment to the gospel, with brothers and sisters around the world who do face these things. But even if we are more comfortably off, we have all felt the pain of bereavement; we ourselves or those we know may be suffering from poor physical health; we may encounter the bitterness of loneliness, anxiety and depression; we worry about the encroaching effects on secularism on our communities and even churches.
The writers of Scripture, like the news editors of today, tell the story of the human condition honestly. There is joy, beauty, love and much else to be thankful for. But there is also pain – we are in a messed-up world. Some have concluded that there is no God, and we must look to ourselves and human ingenuity and power to solve the problems; others turn to a myriad of deities and idols. But for thousands of years the faithful have cried out to their creator: “Please come and help us! Bring change! Get rid of our enemies – the things that cause us pain! Make things better!”
The prophet Isaiah records that kind of calling on God to intervene in power on the side of his people in visible ways. But then as the chapter continues, awareness shifts away from the problem “out there” – bad people, disease, poor harvest and death - to the problem “in here” – the sin in our hearts. The world is not divided into innocent victims and heartless, powerful oppressors, but all have sinned, no-one is righteous, although of course those with the most power can do the most damage.
In response to the cry of the prophet and the faithful, God promises in chapter 65 to seek (vv1-2), to speak (v6), to act (v8); to forgive and restore his people (v9), and ultimately to bring about final and irreversible cosmic change in a new heaven and a new earth (v17). There will be intervention on the inside and the outside. And of course as we come to the beginning of the New Testament, as the faithful are found praying for God to bring light, healing and justice to a dark world, the work has already begun on the inside, as the divine Son is conceived and grows in the womb of a young woman. Through Jesus’s life and ministry God intervenes visibly in a world of pain and suffering; through his death and resurrection God makes provision for radical change on the inside as sins are forgiven: lives are changed one at a time as the message of salvation is received by faith.
At Advent we remember the supreme historical high points of God coming into our hearts and lives through the incarnation, and the final appearance and judgement of Christ at the last day. But God’s ‘advents’ are not restricted to the past and the future. He acts daily to sustain the universe, to answer the prayers of the faithful, to carry out his purposes. And so we pray for both internal and external intervention: for God to bring our family members, friends and neighbours to repentance and faith in Jesus, and for practical ways of alleviating and bringing to an end any suffering that blights our lives and the lives of others, so that glory goes to God.