Advent is a waiting game. Christmas is all about anticipation.

Young children grasp this better than most. December begins and they count the sleeps ’til food, fun and presents. Their sleepless Christmas Eve shows the struggle and excitement of waiting for good to come.

Young children grasp what we all should. Advent is a waiting game. ‘Advent’ is Latin for coming. We look back to God having come to us, born as one of us. We look forward to Christ coming again to us, to put all things right. His first coming gets the lion’s share of our attention at Christmas. But we’d do well to give more thought to the truth that He’s coming again. Christmas is all about anticipation.

In 1744, Charles Wesley reflected on Haggai 2:7 (not your usual Christmas text): ‘I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.’   With God’s promise in his mind, and clear sight about his community (the plight of local orphans and the gap between ‘haves and have-nots’ in British society), he wrote ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus’.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Wesley understood Advent longing. He knew what Christ had already come for: freedom from sin and fear. He knew the desire of every heart: whether it’s conflict in Gaza, Ukraine and Sudan – or more personal burdens – our current situation cries for His ‘gracious kingdom’. So He longed for Jesus to come. To come first and ‘rule in our heart alone’ – the personal outpouring of His Spirit that more would be ready for Him. To come in full to ‘raise us to Thy glorious throne’ – Christ’s final return that will end forever all sin and fear.

Christmas is all about anticipation. We need to long for His coming like the sleepless child on Christmas Eve. Here are 3 ways we can keep in step with the season:

  1. Build the anticipation by looking back.

    Look back to Christ’s first coming. Re-read the opening of Matthew and Luke. Use an advent study (or buy one ready for next year). To recommend a few: Sinclair Ferguson’s ‘Love came down at Christmas’ and ‘Redeeming grace’; Christopher Ash’s ‘Repeat the sounding joy’; Jonathan Gibson’s ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. 

    Don’t just look 2000 years back. Consider what Christ has done the past year. In church-life, we’ve partnered as 6 congregations; launched ‘Jesus Club’; sustained and grown continuing ministries; seen Growth Groups bless others creatively; run well-attended ‘Explore Jesus’ courses quarterly; gathered together in our Unity celebration and Day conference – and so much more. You will have areas for gratitude in your own life. This is Jesus ‘bringing his gracious kingdom’ in part. Pay attention to it, to grow your longing for the kingdom in full.

  2. Build the anticipation by looking forward

    Look to Christ’s final coming. Re-read 1 Thessalonians 4-5, 1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 21-22. Read over Carol lyrics – meditate on Wesley’s words above. Consider what God might do to grow you as a disciple in 2024 – what areas of grace you’d love Him to grow in you. 

    As a church in coming years, attention will be given to: Internal pastoral care; external caring for the marginalised; training and sending disciples to serve elsewhere; congregational growth and church plants; and a major property strategy. More will be communicated about each area soon – but we look for Jesus to keep growing His gracious kingdom and play our part in it’s growth. Longing for growth grows a heart to seek first His kingdom in everything.

  3. Build the anticipation by persistent asking.

    In Luke 18, the persistent widow gets justice because she doesn’t stop asking. Christ told the parable so his disciples would ‘always pray and not give up’. Pray ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. Pray ‘Come, Thou long expected Jesus’. Pray and don’t give up.

In Him,

Mark Smith