The And of Advent

The Christmas season points us to the abundant life—in the present moment, and in the life to come.

At this most wonderful time of year, images of abundance are everywhere—tables overflow with luscious treats, ornament-frosted trees are surrounded by piles of beautifully wrapped gifts, and the calendar is packed with festive parties and gatherings. When I read Jesus’ words in John 10:10, I’m tempted to imagine that the way He spoke about His followers receiving life to the full was akin to some version of Perfect American Christmas every day: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

It wasn’t that I missed what the Bible had to say about the brokenness, suffering, war, illness, poverty, and injustice of this world. Yet I was struck by the fact that even while journeying toward death on the cross, Jesus said that His purpose was to lavish His overflowing life on those who followed Him. Without realizing it, however, for a long time I found it easy to conflate modern images of success, wealth, and a pile of stuff with Jesus’ promise of abundant life.

My version of abundance would include glowing good health, a gift that has been elusive throughout my adulthood. For years, doctors treated the string of serious upper respiratory infections I contracted every winter with a buffet of antibiotics. Meanwhile, an ongoing cadre of church friends suggested countless diets, essential oils, dietary supplements, and various spiritual improvement plans to secure the healing that seemed to elude me. I was on the receiving end of many prayers that covered the spectrum from “Not our will, but yours, O Lord” to “We ask for supernatural healing for Michelle right now, in Jesus’ name.” The constant battle with illness, combined with the fact that I was sure I could unlock good health if only I ate better, prayed more, or found a magical medicine that would fix me once and for all, was my way of scripting my best life now and calling it God’s abundant life.

When I landed in a new specialist’s office two years ago, after I contracted a serious case of pneumonia while already taking powerful antibiotics for another infection, the doctor looked at my medical records and immediately ordered a set of tests no one had ever thought to give me. His diagnosis of a rare immune system disorder means I now receive weekly infusions of a product derived from the blood plasma of tens of thousands of plasma donors to replace part of what my body is lacking, better equipping me to fight off some of the infections that have permanently weakened me.

We live in the reality that we will not experience the fullness of abundant life in all of its implications until His return.

My diagnosis forced me to throw out my script of what an abundant life is supposed to look like, because, frankly, it was written by Madison Avenue and Hollywood, not Jesus. While I believe God sometimes intervenes miraculously to bring healing, those miracles are signposts of a kingdom that theologians express as existing in both “already and not yet” forms. Jesus came to inaugurate the kingdom, and His followers experience His eternal life here and now. He is abundant life itself, and His Spirit infuses our life with all that He is. At the same time, we live in the reality that we will not experience the fullness of abundant life in all of its implications until His return. Paul captured the essence of the “already but not yet” in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (NIV).

If I’d been born 200 years ago, I would not have survived to adulthood. The infusions I receive offer me a priceless gift of life—one I do not take for granted—but the gift is not the complete healing that I will know when I am at last in the Lord’s presence, seeing Him face-to-face. This is for me a very personal picture of the “already but not yet” abundant life to which Jesus referred. Even if I were to be miraculously healed tomorrow, I’d still be living the experience of a forgiven sinner in this world, waiting for full redemption and the wholeness available only in eternity.

Applying Jesus’ promise of life to the full means situating it within the context of “already and not yet.” But as the years have gone along, it’s the “and” part of that phrase that most has my attention now. I’ve grown to appreciate the discipline of living in the “and” linking “already” and “not yet.” I find this “and” honored in the disciplines of simplicity, prayer, and service bound up in Advent. Historically, Advent has had a dual focus: readying hearts to welcome the incarnate Son of Man into our midst, and prompting Jesus’ followers to look forward with anticipation to the day of His return to earth as reigning Son of God. Advent is a season that’s all about the “and,” teaching us to wait in the “now” for the “not yet,” and orienting us toward the God who is with us every moment. And this is the kind of wait that looks just like abundance.

 

Healing looks different for everyone. Read Take 2 here.

 

Illustration by Abbey Lossing

Related Topics:  Sickness

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10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

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