Sunday, November 27, 2011


“God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God…who for us and for our salvation came down” is how one of the early creeds of the Church put it. “It,” of course, is Advent. From the Latin adventus meaning “coming,” the word describes a period of preparation, four weeks in length, during which for centuries the Church has remembered and reflected upon Christ’s first “coming” and anticipated His final “coming.” It begins today and culminates on Christmas Eve.

I observe, however, that we contemporary Christians are much better at celebrating the first coming of Christ than anticipating the final one. My, how we love the Baby of Bethlehem! He’s so sweet, so gentle, so cuddly lying there in the manger. We don’t need a Cosmic Christ splitting the sky and melting the universe like a dream. Like Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, the Baby Jesus gives us all we need.

And when we do reflect on Jesus' final advent, it’s more often than not merely a matter of curiosity, sometimes complete with charts and diagrams and signs and portents. For a price, we'll sell you the books and CD's.

Others are too frightened to think about it. Already they’re planning on taking an incomplete, or perhaps calling in sick that day.

But it was not so for the first Christians. For them life was both difficult and dangerous, and Advent wasn’t just a time for remembering the Baby of Bethlehem; it was a time for hoping. For the earliest saints, all through the ages, His final coming was a matter of great hope and anticipation. Looking forward to it, going outside and searching the heavens for a star, listening to the children ask: “When Jesus comes, will he have supper at our house?” They prayed this, you know: “Come Lord Jesus.” Maranatha.

One of the earliest prayers in the New Testament (we know that because it's preserved in the Aramaic rather than translated into Greek), Maranatha was the way the first Christians ended every celebration of the Supper on the Lord's Day. At table, they remembered the words of their Lord Who told them after His Last Supper with His first disciples that He would not drink of the Cup of the Covenant again until He could drink it with them in the Kingdom of God (see Mark 14:25). And so the first Christians, in memory of that moment and in anticipation of that promise, ate the Bread and drank the Cup and prayed for His coming – Maranatha! (Our Lord, Come!).

Deriving from the Aramaic (the language of the first Jewish Christians), maranatha can be divided in one of two ways – either maran-atha or marana-tha. The former is a statement – "Our Lord comes." The latter is a prayer – O Lord, come!" Ironically enough, it was the Book of Revelation that taught us how those first Christians divided it. Revelation 22:20 closes the Apocalypse (and the Bible) with a prayer: "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.' And let the one hearing say, 'Come.' And let the one who thirsts say come, let the one willing take the water of life freely.... The One bearing witness to these things says, 'Yes, I come quickly.'" And then the Church responds: "Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!" But in the Church's original language, that prayer would be comprised of just two Aramaic words: "Amen, Maranatha!" It's not a statement; it's a prayer! For the first Christians, Christ's Coming was not just a curiosity; it was a necessity, a desperate hope, a passionate prayer.

And even today, in places like Cairo in Egypt, there are Christians who today will pray this Christmas for Christ’s coming in a way most of us could not imagine.

“Very God of Very God…who for us and for our salvation came (and comes) down.” Something to think about this year while you’re putting out the Nativity.


R. Wayne Stacy

1 comment:

Jason Blanton said...

I actually focused my first Advent sermon on Herod to try and communicate what kind of "hope" the expectant Jews had. They lived in a world that was darkness, personified in Herod, and they lived every day "hoping" for deliverance. Then I transitioned them to Matthew's first audience, who still lived in that dark world, and "hoped" for the restoration of all things that would come with Jesus' return. I compared Herod with the Magi and the baby Jesus to show what kind of person rules our world, and the way the Kingdom of God is ruled. Certainly a fun sermon to preach, whether they liked it or not!