I love Advent and and always one of the first to start whining about how Advent gets lost in the preparation for Christmas. There is something about Advent that reminds us that as Christians we live in-between worlds, the was, the is to come and the now. The secular season of christmas that runs parallel to Advent, and is done pretty much before the Liturgical season of Christmas has begun, is a stark reminder of the bi-cultural world most Christians find themselves inhabiting. One that Advent actually helps us to reflect upon and live out authentically.
The three comings of Christ
Advent is often seen as the time we reflect on the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time and the first coming of Christ as a babe in Bethlehem. However in 12th century Bernard of Clairvaux, a French monk, preached about the three comings of Christ.
We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.
The third ‘coming’ then is the imminent and intimate presence of God in our lives.
Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.
Bernard of Clairvaux encourages his readers to rejoice in this third coming, to find joy and nurture in presence of Christ in our daily lives.
Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons
Reflecting with Bernard of Clairvaux helps us get our heads around and reflect on the was-is-to-come-now-ness of Advent, of the incarnate God. This ‘third-coming’ reminds grumps like me that Christ is our constant joy, strength, and consolation. The ‘third-coming’ also helps us to hold both the Babe in Bethlehem and the King of Glory together as the Jesus we meet frequently in bread and wine.
In the traditional Advent hymn, ‘Come thou long expected Jesus’, Wesley’s words echo and expand St Bernard’s. Here we sing of the coming birth of Jesus, the coming kingdom of freedom and the very present joy of our heart.
This arrangement (and speed!) is by Red Mountain Music in their album “Silent Night” and sung by Ashley Spurling.Words by Charles Wesley and the gold old tune Welsh tune (Hyfrydol) by Rowland H. Prichard.