Therefore while the promise of rest still stands, let us fear
lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it… (Hebrews 4:1)
We live in a busy world. Our calendars are full of places to go, people to see, and things to do. Productivity and accomplishment drive much of the world around us. To the world, time is fleeting and crowded with tasks that demand our attention, but to the church, time is something far different. As the church, we have the great privilege of participating in God’s unfolding story and claiming it as our own, rather than simply watching from a distance. We are called to understand our lives, not just in terms of this time and place, but God’s eternal time and purpose.
The church year begins with the Season of Advent. Just as we spend New Year’s Eve reflecting on the past year, and planning for the year to come, Advent is a season of looking back at God’s story to what he’s done, recognizing what he is doing, and looking forward to what he will do.
This is a wonderful and terrifying thing.
For if we truly believe this story — that God is who he says he is, that his son Jesus has died and risen and ascended to Heaven, that Jesus will come again to judge “the quick and the dead” and that God’s great desire is to draw each and every one of his children to himself for eternity — then we can’t possibly continue on as if our life, our story, or even our time is our own. Can we?
For if we truly believe this story... then we can’t possibly continue on as if our life, our story, or even our time is our own. Can we?
These are the questions that the season of Advent calls us to ask. Are we living our lives in the light of what Christ has done and in the hope of what he will do? Do we know who God is and who we are in his Gospel story? Have we allowed the truth of that discovery to shape our priorities and our desires for our lives?
As we engage with God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is at work within us. We are confronted with who God is and who we are. Our hard hearts and our desire to live by our own strength and wisdom are laid bare. But in his grace and goodness, God does not leave us there. We are confronted with our sin and then invited through Christ to repent, to turn, to soften our hearts, confess our great need of God, and to draw near the throne of grace. And as we do, we are given the precious gift of true and eternal rest.
Hebrews 4:2-10 traces the story of God's promise of rest to his people through the Old Testament, showing how over and over again God keeps opening up this promise to his people. Beginning in creation when God rested on the seventh day, to the rebellion of his people in the desert, to Joshua in the promised land, and all the way up to today we can be certain of God's invitation of rest. Why? Because it is an eternal promise that is part of the very character of God.
Our entire lives are held within the greater story of the Gospel. We live in between the bookends of God's joyful rest from creation and the final rest of being with him eternally.
Our entire lives are held within the greater story of the Gospel.
Knowing the certainty of this ending changes everything! I love a good story, but I struggle to relax and enjoy a tense plot if I don’t know the ending. My desire to get to the end and find out what happens leads me to skim through the story. Because I’m in such a hurry, I miss the subtle humor and references and even hints at what will happen at the end!
The PROMISE of God’s rest lets us rest now. It lets us stop racing, panicked, to see what happens next. It removes the fear and shame of not making it or not being enough. Knowing how the story ends lets us notice and live into all the richness and fullness and beauty of the story as it unfolds, even when it's really, really hard. Because we can KNOW that it isn't how the story ends. This reality isn't eternal; it's passing away.
God asks us to trust him. To have faith. To believe. Not just in an abstract way, but to believe by RESTING in his promises. By knowing the ending, and participating fully in all the messy, painful, struggle-filled, beautiful, and joyous bits of life in this in-between time.
This is the Promise of entering his Rest that we are given in Christ. This is the command that we are given as his body, the Church. In this in-between time, this now and not yet time of waiting, press on, press in to HIM.
For that is who God has made us to be. We are the characters the great author has written into his gospel story. And it must change absolutely everything about how we see ourselves, and our lives.
And so in this Advent time we wait. We fix our eyes on Jesus. We come to his word to have the truth of ourselves revealed over and over again, and we rest there – even as we are laid bare before him – knowing that we are absolutely beloved and forgiven through Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, our God who has come to dwell with us. Our Lord who has died and risen that we might be able to draw near to the throne and dwell with him.