By Aaron Gann
CMJ USA Contributor
Editor’s Note: We begin an occasional teaching series on how the seasons of the Christian calendar relate to Israel and Jesus the Messiah. We start this month with Advent and will go through to Advent and Christmas 2023.
We have come again to the head of the Church year, beginning the liturgical cycle anew. While the civil new year begins on January 1, the Christian community in the West has adopted the first of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas to be the Christian New Year.
In our current culture, the Christmas season typically begins the weekend after Thanksgiving (though Christmas music, decorations, and sales have begun to precede Thanksgiving in many places) and builds up in a mighty crescendo that peaks on Christmas morning – with all the joy, foods, presents, and other forms of celebration – then quickly peters out. However, in the classical practice of the Church, the Christmas season does not officially begin until the evening of December 24, Christmas Eve, and then lasts for 12 days. Until Christmas Eve, we observe a season known as Advent.
Advent, meaning coming or arrival, is a season of reflection and repentance, like the season of Lent before Easter. This is often marked by the use of an Advent wreath and lighting candles to count the weeks leading up to Christmas. The focus of this season is the Messiah’s coming, remembering both his first coming and his promise to return from the right hand of the Father.
The Messiah's Advent, both in the past and in the future, is important not only to the Church but is also of great importance to the people of Israel. In his first Advent, the Messiah came for his own Jewish people. His ministry was to them, first and foremost. Likewise, when he returns, one of the primary purposes will be to banish ungodliness from Jacob (Rom 11:26-27; Isa 59:20–21, 27:9) and restore the Jewish people to God. Israel is not the only people in God’s mind, but they are at the heart of his plans for the world and the means by which he brings his blessings to the nations (Rom 11:12).
In recalling the first coming of Jesus, we must remember that this was a Jewish event. The announcement of his conception was filled with the language of his Davidic inheritance (Luke 1:26-32). Indeed, he was born in David’s own city, Bethlehem, to a Jewish mother and adopted by a Jewish father, both from the line of David. As regards the flesh, our Messiah belongs first and foremost to the Jewish people (Rom 9:5). As regards the prophecies of his coming, his advent wasn't foretold by the nations or the philosophers, but by the prophets of God to Israel.
Image by Jan van't Hoff/Gospel Images
The good news of his birth was, of course, good news for all people, Jew and Gentile, (Luke 2:10), and it was promised that the Gentiles would find their hope in him (Isa 42:1-4; Matt 12:21, a topic that will be focused on in the Season of Epiphany). However, he was – and still is! -- the glory of his people Israel which illuminates the eyes of the Gentiles (Luke 2:29-32) and not the other way around. This is why the Apostle Paul can say that the Gospel is for all people, but first to the Jew and then the Gentile (Rom 1:16).
Remembering Jesus’ first Advent, it is obvious that the majority of the Jewish people did not receive him (John 1:11). However, some of the Jewish people did indeed believe and follow Jesus, declaring, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). We as the Church, in our remembrances of his first coming, would do well to use this time to declare to the Jewish community that the Messiah has indeed come and that he will come again.
In looking forward to the second Advent of our Lord, there are many opinions as to how exactly the events will play out. The sorting of these out lies beyond the scope of this article. Often when sermons are preached on this topic, what is in focus is the judgment of the world and the fierce wrath of our God.
While this is a topic of great importance, and one which the Church needs to remind herself of, one of the key facets of the Messiah’s return we need to remember is the spiritual restoration of Israel. Currently, the Jewish people are divided into two groups. The first is the unbelieving nation of Israel, which has been hardened in this current age, and the second is the Jewish remnant that has come to faith in Jesus in the present age. This is how the Jewish people relate to God in this present age (Rom 11:5-7).
Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezek 37) by Gustave Doré
When the Messiah returns, he will not only judge the nations (Isa 2:4) and his Church (2 Cor 5:10), but he will also end the hardening that Israel is currently undergoing and bring them, as a nation, into faith in him (Rom 11:25-27). Thus will be fulfilled the words the prophet Zechariah wrote, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zech 12:10).
This means that one of the reasons that Jesus will return is for the sake of Israel and the Jewish people. As we look forward to his coming, we must remember that this is a Jewish event. And even that will, once again, affect the whole world. Just as he appeared to Israel in his first Advent, by which the world has received the blessings of the Gospel, so too will he appear to Israel a second time, and the world will receive blessings again, greater riches than before (Rom 11:11-12; 15). He will complete his mission, judging and restoring the whole world, first the Jew and also the Gentile.
As we continue in our Advent season, let us remember that this is not merely a season that concerns the Church. It is a season that concerns Israel as well. This is a message of hope for the Jewish community concerning the past, present, and future. Therefore, let us declare to the Jewish people that the Messiah has indeed come, that the Messiah has died, the Messiah has risen, and the Messiah will come again. Amen and Amen.
Aaron Gann desires to help people develop biblical literacy and a biblically-informed love for Israel and the Jewish people. He and his wife, Rebecca, reside in Raleigh, North Carolina. They serve at Redeemer Anglican Church in Raleigh as well as at L’Chaim Messianic Fellowship in Cary, North Carolina. Aaron is studying toward a master of divinity at Shepherds Theological Seminary in Cary and is an aspirant discerning a call to ordained ministry within the Anglican Church in North America.