With two billion other Christians around the globe, I enter this season of preparation, a season of waiting and anticipation. This is Advent, the time when the Christ-child comes once again. When we say Jesus is Lord, we mean a new king has arrived. He has come, already, even now, on earth as it is in heaven. We anticipate and imagine this new reality for our world. We ponder once again how his reign will break into our lives, into our world. This is what is so powerfully renewing through the Advent season.
How to describe the feeling of it all? Perhaps the Santa tradition, which can be so unbelievably corrupted at times, gets it partly right. We think back on all of that interminable waiting for Santa to arrive again. The waiting was charged with strong feeling. It was filled with wonder and mystery. It had some fear in it too: What if Santa passed me by? Ultimately it was filled with joy and delight as the gifts of our imagination actually materialized. Well, at least some of them.
In Advent, we feel once again all those child-like feelings: the mystery of it all, the joy and delight, the powerful sense that we are loved, the compelling need to express our love in return.
I have been listening to Handel’s great eighteenth-century masterpiece Messiah. The message of this grand oratorio is something quite amazing:
The kingdom of this world;
the kingdom of our Lord,
and of His Christ
and of His Christ
And He shall reign for ever and ever . . . .
King of kings forever and ever
and lord of lords . . .
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah,
This is what is so powerful to me these days. The world in which we live—with all of its grief and poverty and violence, its despair and its coarseness—“is become / the kingdom of our Lord, / and of His Christ.” The long-awaited one has arrived, the one predicted, the one hoped-for with such yearning, the one who would bring the gift of his love, yes, the one who would change the world forever. The new king has arrived, and “He shall reign for ever and ever.” And our response: Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah! Here is an earth-shattering message told in a music so full of joy.
If you have not already seen it, let me introduce you to an amazing video. This video has been circulating for some two years now. Close to forty million people have seen it. Take a look, and watch it to the end:
I’m not usually an arm-lifter in church, but by the time I get to the end, I want to raise my arms in praise as this joyous music breaks out in the mall. Right in the middle of a food court, of all things, the new king arrives in all his glory, breaking into our mundane world. This is the way God’s glorious kingdom breaks into our lives.
N. T. Wright talks about “the devastating and challenging message” of the four gospels: “God really has become king—in and through Jesus! A new state of affairs has been brought into existence. A door has been opened that nobody can shut. Jesus is now the world’s rightful Lord, and all other lords are to fall at his feet. “
And listen to this: This new reign was “far more than we normally imagine of love and creativity and beauty and justice and healing and education and hope. To imagine a world without the gospel of Jesus is to imagine a pretty bleak place. . . .”
“And He shall reign for ever and ever . . . . Hallelujah, hallelujah.”