Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” Bonhoeffer is speaking to the fact that only those who are troubled and humbled by their own condition are able to see the purpose of the Advent clearly. He is reminding us that there is so much about the Advent that we gain by looking forward to His purposes in us as opposed to looking back to a birth 2000 years ago. As Bernard of Clairvaux described it, the Advent celebration is the celebration of the “coming” or advancement of Jesus in our hearts every day. It is this understanding that has a forward look to it, and of which Bonhoeffer was writing.
Certainly, the Advent is about the New Covenant relationship we now can have with our God. This is the ongoing appearing of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts every day. The greatest gift of the Advent of Christ is the covenant He made with us – a covenant that means our separation from our God has been repaired by the atonement death of Christ for us. It means now that the breach has been repaired, His Holy Spirit is always alive within us. And since this is a covenant, it is a durable agreement – we cannot break the Covenant our God made with us. It is binding, and it is durable not by our efforts but by the power of our God.
Even more, the Advent of the New Covenant makes possible the sanctification of our daily living. Our sanctification is not of our own doing. It is not built upon our trying harder and with greater success. We are totally incapable of becoming better in our God’s view. There is, in fact, nothing of the self in our sanctification. Our role in this New Covenant relationship is the full surrender to the Holy Spirit in us. He is now our daily sanctification. We are free from the tyranny of sin and of self, free to be in union with our God.
“So if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed,” said Jesus in John 8:36. He was speaking of setting us free from being slaves to our sin and to our natural abilities. The Advent of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in us sets us free from sin and the self-life. We must be careful to not substitute Savior for Son in this passage. The Savior has set us free from sin and its consequences by the atonement. In John 8 Jesus is speaking of the freedom that comes from being released from the tyranny of the self-life.
This is what Paul meant in Galatians 2:20 when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ Jesus who lives in me.” The Advent of the New Covenant includes the life of Christ lived in place of my life. This is what Paul was describing in this passage.
The result of this surrender to the Spirit of Christ in us? “…You shall be free indeed”— free to the very core of your being; free from the inside to the outside. Free from the constraints of a self-focused life. Free to enjoy fellowship with our God, union with Him. All of this by the Holy Spirit of Christ living in us.
So then, the Advent we celebrate at Christmastime is in truth the appearing of our freedom. By His atoning sacrifice, Christ Jesus has brought us into a New Covenant relationship with our God and has restored us to the rightful place of union with Him. The baby Jesus, whose birth we celebrate, was the harbinger of a new world order. This baby Jesus was bringing a new agreement, a New Covenant, a new world order between our God and us.
Our God This no longer a God “up there somewhere.” He is within each of us at all times. Christ is within and among us, and we now have the restoration of fellowship with our God by His Spirit in us.
Jan Richardson warns us to not miss this great gift of the New Covenant in our rush to celebrate the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago. “The season of Advent means there is something on the horizon the likes of which we have never seen before … What is possible is to not see it, to miss it, to turn just as it brushes past you. And you begin to grasp what it was you missed, like Moses in the cleft of the rock, watching God’s [back] fade in the distance. So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry. Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder. There will be time enough for running. For rushing. For worrying. For pushing. For now, stay. Wait. Something is on the horizon.”
That “something on the horizon” is the advent, the appearing every day of the life of our God in us by His Holy Spirit. May our Lord by His Holy Spirit open our eyes to this great gift of the Advent for us today.