The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121:7-8)
This past Sunday, we entered the season of Advent, the four-week liturgical period leading up to Christmas. Most of your Advent Calendars probably simplify it by counting down the days from December 1st to the 25th every year—that’s pretty close, I guess. Either way, that word Advent comes from the Latin adventus which means “arrival,” which is a noun derived from the verb ad-venire meaning “come to.” The specific arrival we celebrate is more than just a holiday circled on the calendar; it’s the arrival of Jesus—Jesus “coming to” our humanity and world!
For us, this historic “arrival” has already happened—it happened over 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. But for faithful followers of Jesus, the Advent we recognize has a past, present and future significance. God’s Son “came to” the world; he “comes to” us today; and he “will come to” earth again, to rule and reign—finally and fully—as King of kings and Lord of lords.
Psalm 121 is another great “Song of Ascents,” sung by pilgrims on their way to the Temple in Jerusalem for the appointed Hebrew feasts. These pilgrimages recognized the Jewish liturgical year, and the journeys took time and attention to prepare and to travel. Along the way, faithful worshipers would remember God’s protection, provision and power in the past, present and future—the Lord was, is and will be with them always; their God was, is and will be faithful. They could sing and celebrate along every step of their journey, because God was and is their helper (vs. 1). He guides their physical steps (vs. 3), He will protect them from spiritual harm (vs. 6), He will continue to watch over them “both now and forevermore” (vs. 8).
I find it intriguing that every one of the Hebrew verbs in Psalm 121 is in the imperfect tense (Qal imperfect). According to my seminary textbook,
The Hebrew imperfect “denotes incomplete action, whether in the past, present or future and is usually translated in English as present tense (I walk) or future tense (I will walk). The imperfect also denotes habitual or customary action—past, present or future.’
In other words, this song celebrates something about God that is being remembered or recalled (incompletely), something that is being experienced now (imperfectly), and something that can be expected and hoped for (one day). Why? Because what they are celebrating is God’s habitual and continual action. What may be extraordinary for us is wonderfully and predictably ordinary behavior for God!
At Advent, we don’t celebrate that God was doing something new and “outside the box.” We celebrate that God was and is being exactly and reliably who He always was, always is, and always will be—a loving Lover, a giving Giver, and a saving Savior.
In Luke 8:40 we read, “When Jesus returned the crowd welcomed him, because they were all expecting him.” Jesus had been performing miracles and caring for the helpless and hurting. The crowds that day were not simply celebrating what Jesus had done “once upon a time,” they were waiting in expectation. They were expecting that he was coming; and when he came, they were expecting that Jesus would be Jesus among them. Everything that was imperfect and incomplete was going to be made right. “Crooked roads” would be made straight again, “rough ways” would be made smooth, and “all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:5-6) Why, because God was God.
We too can wait in expectation this Advent season. We are expectant because we know what God has done, we trust what God is doing, and we place our hope in what this same habitually wonderful Savior will do when he returns in glory. Jesus came, Jesus comes and Jesus will come again! That is our Advent song. As Martha Butler wrote in her iconic hymn, “Alleluia! He is coming! Alleluia! He is Here!” Take a few minutes to listen to that song (link below) and to wait on the Lord. Take time to prepare for Him, to welcome Him, to wait for Him…and always stay thirsty for Him!
Song of Celebration: Alleluia He is Coming