At Community Evangelical Free Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania lead pastor Benjamin Vrbicek writes at his blog about the anticipation of Christmas in Advent. He does a deep dive looking at what it sin, error and pining are about.
“Jesus stands at the door knocking (Rev. 3:20). In total reality, he comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help. He confronts you in every person that you meet. As long as there are people, Christ will walk the earth as your neighbor, as the one through whom God calls you, speaks to you, makes demands on you. That is the great seriousness and great blessedness of the Advent message. Christ is standing at the door; he lives in the form of a human being among us.”
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[d]
Luke 2:8-14 ESV
The previous blog post looked at what an EFCA pastor in San Antonio, Texas taught about Jesus and Advent. This time were going to look at what Benjamin Vrbicek at Community Evangelical Free Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is teaching about the anticipation of Christmas. At his blog “Fan and Flame” Benjamin wrote a post called, “The Second Advent: The Thrill of Hope for a World in Sin and Error Pining.” In his blog post the EFCA pastor reflects on what sin, error and pining are all about.
On Christmas Eve, with only candlelight, our church will sing the classic Christmas hymn “O Holy Night.” We’ll sing the line, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” That line in the hymn accurately described the state of the world just before the Advent of the Messiah, the world just before the birth of Christ. But that description also sounds how I might describe our world as we wait for the second Advent, the second coming of Jesus.
Consider each of those three words: sin, error, and pining.
First, there is sin. In the first century the political leaders over God’s people were debauched. For example, in the Christmas story we read about a king who killed a generation of babies when he learns of the birth of a new king (Matt 2:16–18). Today in America we also kill a lot of babies. And consider Matthew 14 where we read of Herod Antipas offering up to half his kingdom to a young woman who does something of a striptease for him at a dinner party. Sin abounded in their world—but also in ours. If you visited our church on Sunday morning, depending on which way you drive to our building, a minute before you arrive in our parking lot you would pass two strip clubs and an adult video store. The sign above one of the clubs says, “According to the poles, we’re the best place in town.” In other words, on your way to church you’d be confronted with sin, not in some faraway and long-ago land, but around the corner. Long lay the world in sin—then and now.
There is error. You don’t have to be familiar with the Bible to know of the religious group called the Pharisees. Yet the Pharisees were only one of four major religious groups. There were also the Sadducees, who tended to be more liberal and interested in colluding with the Romans. There were the Essenes, a pious group known for their retreat from ordinary society to maintain their supposed purity. There were the Zealots who were primarily interested in regaining political power. Then, of course, there were the Pharisees. The Pharisees were more like your evangelical pastors in the way they tended to have a conservative approach to the Bible. But Jesus took even this best group, the Pharisees, to task repeatedly for their errors (e.g., the seven “woe to you Pharisees” statements in Matt 23). This multiplication of religious error even within true religion (not even considering the errors of false religions) causes me to think how many errors exist today among all the fractured denominations of Christianity. There are not four major groups in Christianity, but forty or even four hundred. Long lay the world in error—then and now.
And then there’s the word pining. We don’t use the word pining much, but it means reaching or yearning. Pining involves longing for something yet unrealized, like reaching for a carrot always just too far in front of you. Behind each idol our hearts could create for worship—whether the idol of work or money or sex or approval or power or whatever—is a pining for something deeper, something we know we want but can never seem to grasp. Perhaps to describe pining we could use the language of “thirst” and “desire,” as Revelation 22:17 does: “And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” C.S. Lewis uses the language of desire in his famous quote about being created for another world: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” All of us have this desire, this thirst, this pining for another world. Before the first Advent of Christ, there were four hundred years of silence from God’s prophets from Malachi to Matthew. And there have been two thousand years since as we wait for the second Advent. Long lay the world pining—then and now.
But I find encouragement from the book of Revelation, specifically the last verses in the last chapter in the last book of the Bible. There we see that Jesus anticipated a time when his church would be wondering if they had been forgotten. Jesus anticipated a time when his people would feel they had too long lain in sin and error pining.
The last chapter of the Bible answers the question of whether God’s people have been or will ever be forgotten with a resounding, No. In Revelation 22:7 Jesus tells us, “And behold, I am coming soon.” Later he says again, “Behold, I am coming soon . . . I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (v. 12).
I don’t know exactly what Jesus means by the word “soon”; apparently not what you and I ordinarily mean by the word. But I do know that the promise of Christ’s second Advent means his children are not forgotten.
At the end of a difficult year, I pray the promise of God’s soon return would lead us to know a fresh “thrill of hope” and cause our “weary world to rejoice.”