Cyril of Jerusalem and Advent

Advent Meditation — Dr. Alexander Pierce

“We preach not one advent only of Christ, but a second also, far more glorious than the former. For the former gave a view of His patience; but the latter brings with it the crown of a divine kingdom. For all things, for the most part, are twofold in our Lord Jesus Christ: a twofold generation; one, of God, before the ages; and one, of a Virgin, at the close of the ages: His descents twofold; one, the unobserved, like rain on a fleece; and a second His open coming, which is to be. In His former advent, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger; in His second, He covereth Himself with light as with a garment. In his first coming, He endured the Cross, despising shame; in His second, He comes attended by a host of Angels, receiving glory. We rest not then upon His first advent only, but look also for His second. And as at His first coming we said, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord, so will we repeat the same at His second coming; that when with Angels, we meet our Master, we may worship Him and say, Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.”

– Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 15.1

St. Cyril of JerusalemCyril was the bishop of Jerusalem in the second half of the fourth century (ca. 350 386/7). He gave catechetical instruction in the form of “lectures” to those preparing for and having recently received the grace of the Holy Spirit in the waters of Baptism. His lectures invite incoming and newly minted members of Christ’s Church to receive the Church’s creedally orthodox theology and help them to see how that body of teaching originates in Holy Scripture.

This particular lecture beckons us to hope for Christ’s second coming at the end of history even as we remember and celebrate His first coming as a babe in Bethlehem. Cyril reminds us that celebrating the incarnation of the Word during the season of Advent should lead us not only to look backward to the blessed nativity, but also to fix our gaze upon the future fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to return in glory. As the apostle Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 15, the life, and even the death of Christ is meaningless without the victory of Easter Sunday. In a similar fashion, the joy of the incarnation is inextricably bound up with the promise of Christ’s Second Coming. God’s faithfulness in the Old Testament gave Israelites reason for confidence that messianic prophecies would be realized at the proper time. Christians likewise behold the faithfulness of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and are thus strengthened in their hope for the blessed future which God has promised to His beloved children.

Cyril poetically guides his audience to contemplate the mystery of the incarnation by emphasizing the fullness of Christ’s deity, and the fullness of his humanity side by side. The eternal Word of God is eternally begotten of God the Father and yet He is conceived by the Virgin Mary as He assumes a human nature to Himself. The eternal generation of the Son is the first divine procession, the relation that distinguishes the Son from the Father in the Godhead. The birth of Jesus of Nazareth is at once the Spirit’s conception and the Word’s assumption of a human nature, soul and body. The humble birth of Jesus, which exhibits God’s patience and care for sinful human persons, is a descent concealed in a shroud of humility. The return of Jesus on the clouds, which displays God’s majesty and covenant faithfulness, will be a descent revealed in the glory of His brilliant light and the angelic host that attends Him.

Christ’s first advent was the unexpected inauguration of the kingdom of heaven. In humility and weakness, Christ came in the dark of night. He was conceived by a young unmarried maiden. His life depended upon Mary’s care, requiring swaddling clothes to keep Him warm and a manger in which to sleep. After living the “unobserved” life of a carpenter’s son, ministering as an outsider among the religious elite, and proclaiming the Good News of salvation to a “faithless generation” (Mark 9:19 NRSV), Jesus underwent the shame of the cross at Golgotha. When He appeared on the third day after triumphing over death, the risen Christ revealed Himself only to those with eyes of faith and only to the extent that their faith enables them to see Him aright.

Christ’s second advent is the expected and awaited consummation of God’s kingdom. In glory and power, Christ will come as “the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west” (Matthew 24:27). The risen Christ is presently interceding for His people at the right hand of God the Father. At His second coming, He will make “alive in Christ… those who belong to Christ” before “the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father” (1 Corinthians 15:22-24). The sight of the risen Christ returning will bring peace and joy to His “kingdom, priests serving his God and Father” while “those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him” (Rev. 1:6 7b). What has long been anticipated will then be received, promises fulfilled and warnings meted out. Christians are to fast and remain faithful to our humble Savior so that when the kingdom of God arrives in power we may celebrate the return of our glorious Lord.

Cyril draws our attention to the way the Gospel of Matthew makes subtle use of the words of Psalm 118:26a: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” When Palm Sunday comes around this spring and we all proclaim, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew. 21:9), we are remembering the words proclaimed by the witnesses of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. At the same time, we must also keep in mind that Jesus Himself promised that the next time we would see Him with our eyes we too would cry out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matthew 23:39). The victory of Palm Sunday was fleeting — quickly overshadowed by the darkness of the crucifixion. But Jesus’ triumph over all the powers of evil and darkness will bring a peace that is without end, for when Jesus returns to take up the faithful to be the heavenly Jerusalem in which He will have an everlasting dwelling we will enjoy union with God in Christ and God will be our all in all.

May we join together in giving thanks and devotion to the Christ of both the first and second advents as we remember so that we might have hope. As we wait, let us return to the words of the psalmist which captured the imagination of the author of the Gospel of Matthew and Cyril alike.

Psalm 118:21-29 NRSV

21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
26 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has given us light.
28 Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar.
29 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
30 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Dr. Alexander Pierce

Dr. Alexander Pierce
Assistant Professor of Historical Theology

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