Looking Back to Look Ahead | A Reflection for the Season of Advent

“In Advent we hear the prophecies of the Messiah’s coming as addressed to us— people who wait for the second coming. In Advent we heighten our anticipation for the ultimate fulfillment of all Old Testament promises, when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, death will be swallowed up, and every tear will be wiped away. In this way Advent highlights for us the larger story of God’s redemptive plan.”  -The Worship Sourcebook

The season of Advent marks the beginning of the church calendar year. The four weeks leading up to Christmas we have the opportunity to take some time preparing for Christmas. In a week we will celebrate Christmas Eve, the night where we remember the promised messiah that Old Testaments prophets were longing for had finally arrived in the person of Jesus. Fully God and Fully man. We will spend time thinking about the nativity scene but our vision of Jesus can’t stop there. One of the things that we can remind ourselves of in this season is that Advent is not simply an opportunity to look back- but rather, an opportunity to look forward. This is a common theme that we see in scripture and so lets take a moment to look even further back in scripture.

The story of the crossing of the Jordan takes place in chapters 3 and 4 of Joshua. The people have prepared to enter into Canaan, and the only thing that lay between them and promised land was the Jordan River. The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant into the flooded Jordan and as they did this, the waters stopped flowing. The people crossed over dry land and after they had all crossed, the river began once to flow again. Once more, God delivered His people through a crossing! I will pick up this story in chapter 4:

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

Three years ago while Sara and I were in Ecuador, at the end of each day we would take the students down to a nice cool swim in the river-­‐ it served as a refreshing reward at the end of a day of hard work-­‐ it was this beautiful flow of clear cold mountain water that flowed through the warm and humid jungle village. Along the side of the river bank were these massive rocks-­‐ on one particular afternoon we started taking the rocks and built them up in a similar fashion as described here in Joshua 4. You can see that we got really nice picture of the finished product-­‐ which was taken just moments before one of the little Ecuadorian boys went and destroyed what we had built. This story doesn’t quite align with the story in Joshua 4. We weren’t intentionally building a monument to God in thanks to what he had done-­‐ the point that I want to make is even though those stones were only aligned like that for a brief moment-­‐ I am still able to vividly recall the context in which they were built. And they do serve, as a reminder to me of seeing God at work-­‐ and it becomes my responsibility to share that with others, and to not let that become a stale, dry memory. If we are not careful, these events can become simply a memorial to a long past event and the stones become simply a cold, lifeless monument to the past. We are thousands of years past the point of this moment in Joshua.

This monument of stones no longer exists, but we can still be reminded of their significance through the reading of God’s word and through connecting these moments of God’s faithfulness throughout salvation history. This pile of stones was to be that anchor of faith, a reference point for later times when the path ahead wouldn’t be as clear-­‐ so that when we look back to these traditions of the faith, we might be propelled into the future. A future that although uncertain, we can face because we have these anchors of faith behind us, plotting our course and giving us hope for the future. To simply look back and observe without participating, would be to establish a museum of worship, where we observe rather than engage. The hope is that as a community we would engage and participate. Swiss theologian Jean-­‐Jacques von Allmen says in Worship: It’s Theology and Practice:

“When we perform Christian worship, we are part of the Church of all places and all times, and this community binds us. To respect liturgical tradition implies…a feeling of gratitude for what God has taught the Church in the past, for the way in which He has inspired and guided it. That is why there exist in Christian worship and its unfolding certain classical forms which have…such a theological and anthropological plenitude, are of such monumental liturgical importance, that the Church never exhausts their vitality, never wears them out, in spite of constant use” (97).

And so it is our desire that our in this Christmas season, that we will look back at the fulfilled promises of God, for the sake of continuing to move forward! Our worship should continually help us in rehearsing the rhythms of the Gospel, as we sing together, confess our sins, are assured of our salvation through the work of Christ on the cross. As we taste the Gospel through the breaking of bread at the Lord’s Table, we are being prepared to go out from our places of worship better equipped to face the trials that come to us in this life.

We can look back at the faithfulness of God throughout the generations. With all this we are being called to remember not for the sake of simply remembering, but to take a step of faith as a community of believers into the community to which God has called us to serve. In a play you don’t rehearse simply for sake of rehearsing. You rehearse to perform it for the public. Similarly we don’t rehearse the Gospel simply for the sake of remembering or even simply for the sake of the edification of our worshipping community. We rehearse the Gospel here, so that we might be able to live it out in our homes, neighborhoods, and places of work.

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