By Sunday, the church will have made quite a journey during the first three weeks of Advent. The “good news” has been expressed first as a promise of God’s coming judgment, then as a confirmation that out of judgment will come relief, and finally this Sunday as a message that God’s salvation has indeed come. We can see this transition in the Old Testament progression from Isaiah 64’s “O that you would tear the heavens down…” to Isaiah 40’s “Comfort, O comfort my people…” to Isaiah 61’s “The spirit of the Lord is upon me…to bring good news to the oppressed.” As I read these OT lessons, I feel that we’ve journeyed through wilderness and trial and are emerging into that place of promise.
As I read the gospel lessons, though, it’s easy for me to miss that transition. Sure, it’s pretty clear that judgment is the theme of Mark 13 and the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds with great power and glory, but last Sunday’s Mark 1 and this Sunday’s John 1 both portray John the Baptist who is making the way straight by baptizing penitent sinners in the Jordan River. Because the text is so similar last week and this week, it would be easy for me to hear it as a reiterated message with no growth or development, but the OT lessons remind me to search for that progress as the church walks its way through Advent and towards the Nativity.
It might be overplaying it, but today in John’s version my eyes fall to John the Baptist’s description of the messiah as “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.” Contrast that with Mark’s version, in which John proclaims, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me.” In last week’s account, the focus is on the one who is yet to come, but this week we hear of the one who has already come yet whom we have not fully recognized yet. To me, that sounds like the message of Advent.
What is the manner of our waiting? Are we waiting for a salvation that has not come yet? Are we still in that place of Isaiah 64 and Mark 13, which describe the triumphant action of God as a perhaps distant reality? Have we moved to Isaiah 40 and Mark 1, which proclaim a message of hope that is coming soon? Or have we made it to Isaiah 61 and John 1, which show that God’s salvation is already hear and that we need to work on recognizing it?
By the time we get to 4 Advent, the church needs to realize that salvation is both here already and not yet. Our readings next week propel us very clearly into the Nativity story, which is, of course, good and right. We need to prepare to hear again the story of our savior’s birth. Before we do, however, we need to internalize that truth that the salvation for which we wait has come, and is here, and will come again. We need Advent 3 to help bridge the gap between salvation in the past and salvation in the future. We need to hear that the one who is coming is already standing in our midst. We need to open our eyes and look for that salvation, which is right here right now.