We are now closer to the end of Advent and the beginning of Christmas than we are to the beginning of our Advent preparation. It will soon be time to gather as a church body to celebrate the birth of Christ with our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, as well as gathering with family and friends to do the same with each of them. I hope you are having a blessed and rich Advent season thus far. Throughout the last few weeks, we've been taking a look at Bobby Gross's Living the Christian Year, specifically at ways in which we can "inhabit" Advent. However, I want to shift this week and look at what he calls "The Christ Story in Advent."
        "The biblical scope of Advent stretches from the garden in Genesis to the New Jerusalem in Revelation. Advent concerns first and last things. It involves looking back and leaning forward. In Advent we ponder the promises of God from beginning to end.
          In one sense, the whole of the Old Testament is text for Advent: the creation of the world and the fall of humankind, the choosing of one family to bless all families and one nation to bless all nations, the exodus of that nation from captivity, the giving of the law and settling of the land, the choosing of kings and building of a temple, the sins of the people and cries of the prophets, the exile to Babylon and the return to live under Persians, then Greeks, then Romans, and the long, long wait for the one anointed to come and deliver. This is the history---the story---that leads up to Jesus.
          The Old Testament not only tells the story that Jesus completes, argues Christopher Wright, 'it declares the promise that Jesus fulfills.' The prophets, in addition to denouncing sin and calling for repentance, reveal God's multilayered promise of mercy and redemption. But we must discern the different horizons in these prophetic visions: the immediate historical, the intermediate messianic, and the ultimate eschatological. For example, the prophets foretell the restoration of Israel, the blessing of all nations and the renewal of creation itself, but distinguishing these horizons can be difficult.
          Likewise, unraveling different prophetic strands about the Messiah can be confusing. Would he be a kingly "Son of David" bringing about political liberation and social justice, as in Isaiah 9? Would he be a lowly "Servant of the Lord" saving many through suffering and sacrifice, as in Isaiah 53? Or would he be a godlike "Son of Man" coming in the clouds to receive glory and everlasting dominion, as in Daniel 7? Expectations in Jesus' day centered on the first of these: deliverance from Roman rule and restoration of national greatness. This is the backdrop as we read of God breaking into the lives of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph, and John the Baptizer. These individuals are filled with expectation, yet they barely know what to expect.
          From our perspective now, we see that these vast promises were all fulfilled in Jesus---and yet not fully fulfilled. He announced a kingdom at hand and yet spoke of a reign to come. He gave his life as a ransom for many and yet pointed to a day of salvation in the future. He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven yet pledged to return one day on the clouds. We who belong to him are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), yet we groan for the day when the whole cosmos will obtain with us the freedom of glory (Rom 8:21). So we find ourselves in this time of now and yet to come.
          Advent dramatizes this tension for us. The hopes of ancient Israel resonate in us and amplify our own hopes as we wait for the full redemption to come. The great symphony of Christ begins in this season and the strains of the overture already anticipate the soaring crescendo."
As a musician, I especially love and can relate to that last sentence. When you go to to an opera or a musical, when the overture is played at the beginning, you should always want to listen closely to it. It's not just a random piece of music written by the composer. The overture always contains musical themes, melodies, and phrases that will be heard throughout the opera or musical as it progresses. In the same way, the "strains" of this life, including the truths that we read in Scripture, prepare us for the "soaring crescendo" of eternity. There is a reason that we anticipate Christ's second advent during this season, as well as celebrating his first. His return will be unexpected, and for all eternity, we will worship the one whom we have been learning from and about for our entire spiritual lives. The themes of hope, love, joy, and peace (as well as others such as holiness and godliness and kindness) will be "crescendoed" into perfection as we receive our glorified bodies to be with God for all eternity. That is what we are preparing ourselves for. Now, to be clear, we are called to do this all year round. However, Advent gives us a concentrated time where we can hone in and focus our attention on this preparation. We do so by remembering the preparation and anticipation of Christ's first coming, which helps us to better prepare and anticipate his second coming.
This coming Sunday is the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. The fourth Advent candle is the Peace candle, and we will be focusing throughout the entire service on the eternal and everlasting peace that Christ brings to our lives and that He will bring when He comes again. Pastor John's sermon will be from Matt. 10, verses 34 through 39, and will look both at what is and is not true peace.
For the Song of Ascent, we will be singing the hymn "Angels From the Realms of Glory," and for the Hymn of Praise, we will sing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." The New Testament passage this week will be on the announcement of Christ's birth to the shepherds and the "peace on earth" that His birth would bring. For the Hymn of Rejoicing, we will sing Psalm 85, verses 1 through 3 and 6 through 13. It has beautiful language in it of God's desire to save His people, as well as the promise that God will speak peace to His people. It also includes a lovely, poetic phrase that "steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other." For our Hymn of Response, realizing that the end of Advent is near and the beginning of Christmas is at hand, we will sing once more of our longing for the coming of the Lord, as we sing "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus."
Sermon: Matthew 10:34-39
Old Testament Reading: Micah 7:5-7
New Testament Reading: Luke 2:10-14
Hymns: Hymn of Ascent - "Angels From the Realms of Glory" (Trinity Hymnal,218) - vs. 1, 4, 5 
              Hymn of Praise - "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" (Trinity Hymnal, 203)
              Hymn of Rejoicing -Psalm 85 (vs. 1-3, 6-13); tune: "At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing"
              Hymn of Response - "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus" (Trinity Hymnal, 196) - vs. 1, 2, 4
May we all continue to prepare our hearts to welcome Christ, both at Christmas and in his eternal reign to come.

Soli Deo Gloria!