“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world”
(John 1.29). All the themes of Advent converge on this day and climax
in this witness of John. Holy expectation cries out to the Lord:
“Raise up, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy power and come among us.” Holy
desire bursts forth in the joy of anticipation: “Rejoice in the Lord alway,
and again I say, Rejoice.” We await the salvation of our God with a sense
of his presence already stirring in our hearts: “the Lord is at hand.”
Our preparation of prayer and penitence confesses our unrighteousness and
God’s righteousness and seeks his goodness and his peace: in penitence
“that whereas, through our sins and wickedness, we are sore let and hindered
in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy
may speedily help and deliver us’; in prayer that “in nothing be anxious:
but in every thing, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let
your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which
passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ
Jesus” (Phil. 4.6-7).
All converges on Christ Jesus. All is in readiness for his coming.
Man must wait; God shall surely act. We wait in pregnant silence
and in joyous anticipation for the coming of our Saviour, the Christ of
God. “When all things were in quiet silence and the night was in
the midst of her swift course, then thy Almighty Word leapt down from heaven,
from thy royal throne” (Wisdom 18.14). We await the leaping down
of God’s Word. The gospel brings us to that moment when all is coming
to fulfilment. The Word of God in Scripture brings the preparation
of prophecy in Elijah and in Isaiah to fulfilment in John the Baptist,
who announces the coming of the Messiah in judgement and in humility.
“Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” His coming
is our Christmas celebration. “Rejoice in the Lord!”
This week’s readings bring us to the great Festival of Christmas.
We leave off the weekday course of Advent readings after Morning Prayer
on the day of Christmas Eve.
The Old Testament lessons from Isaiah proclaim the comfort of the Lord,
whose “deliverance draws near speedily;” his “salvation has gone forth”
(Is. 51.5). We are exhorted to lift up our eyes to the heavens (51.6)
for “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (52.10).
But the cost of our salvation is the sufferings of the anointed servant,
the Christ (52.13 - 53 end); the babe of Bethlehem is the Christ of Calvary.
This is the compassion of Christ who re-establishes his covenant of peace
as in the days of Noah (54.9-10), “with everlasting love I will have compassion
on you” (54.8). The salvation of God gathers in all the peoples of
the earth, ‘for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples’
(56.6-7). The coming of the Lord brings peace to the far and to the
near; he dwells with the humble in the high and holy place (57.15).
"He will come like a rushing stream (59.19) to establish his righteousness
and our redemption.
The New Testament lessons from St. Mark’s Gospel draw us with Christ
into Jerusalem, at once the city of the King of peace and the city of his
passion. Mark presents the purpose of Christ’s coming through his
deeds—healing blind Bartimaeus, cleansing the temple, withering the fig
tree—and in his words of prophecy, teaching and warning. His coming
means judgement and sacrifice.
The lessons from the Letter of Jude and 2 Peter write of our common
salvation and the examples of disbelief and disobedience which oppose the
salvation of God. Sin sets us in opposition to the goodness of God
and makes us dry and barren like “waterless springs and mists driven by
a storm” (2 Peter’2.17) and like “fruitless trees in late autumn” (Jude
1.12). In the face of disbelief, Jude advises, “Pray in the Holy
Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, and wait for the mercy of our
Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 1.20-21), and Peter recalls
the promises of Christ that we may “become partakers of the divine nature”
and enter into “the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”
(2 Peter 1.4 and 11).
Advent preparation and Christmas celebration come together at the Evensong
of Christmas Eve with the prophecy of Zechariah of our Lord’s coming and
the meditation of Hebrews on the purpose of his coming. Lo, I come
and I will dwell in the midst of you” (Zech. 2.10). On such a holy
night of joyous expectation Zechariah proclaims, “Be silent, all flesh
before the Lord; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling” (2.13).
The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that salvation is wrought by the suffering
and sacrifice of Christ, who has taken upon himself our nature “that through
death he might destroy him who has the power of death” (Heb. 2.14) and
“to make expiation for the sins of the people” (2.17).