It’s Christmas time, my favorite season! I love everything about it and always have – the lights, the music, the festivities and at this point in my life I can even tolerate the heart-warming, predictable Hallmark Christmas movies. My wife, Gwen, is a brilliant decorator and always makes our home a bastion of Christmas tradition and warmth, the kind that makes me never want to leave the house. Her creative genius also fosters a sense of expectancy in our family that builds from Thanksgiving all the way up to the morning of December 25th when the kids and grandkids arrive and the presents are opened. There is an element of the Christmas season, however, that I missed as a child yet discovered as an adult and now have grown to love that brings a true richness to this time of the year.
Several years ago, I introduced the congregation I was Pastoring to an expression of Christmas that was not observed in our expression of Christianity called “Advent” which, this year, starts today (November 28th) and truly speaks to us about this idea of expectancy.
Advent simply means “Coming” or “Arrival” and in Christian tradition, the Advent season leading up to Christmas is designed to build into our hearts a sense of expectancy for the Advent (arrival, coming) of the Savior into the world. Some people try to find a way through Christmas for a variety of reasons, but Advent is designed to have every heart prepare Him room – to prepare room in our hearts for His coming and remove us from the variety of excesses we see around us during this time. These excesses of life are nothing new. Nearly 500 years ago, Martin Luther pined for people to change and move out of these excesses.
There has never been such building and planting in the world. There has never been such gluttonous and varied eating and drinking as now. Wearing apparel has reached its limit in costliness. Who has ever heard of such commerce as now encircles the earth?… Everyone must see and say either ruin or a change must come. It is hard to see how a change can come. Day after day dawns and the same conditions remain (Martin Luther, 1522)
In the four-week celebration of Advent, we think our way back to the ancient people of God, to the call of Abraham and his family as the start of God’s rescue operation for a world in ruins and a human race in chaos. Advent follows the trajectory of Israel’s unfailing hope that refused to die in the face of unspeakable adversity – a hope that became incarnate with the birth of Christ.
With the first advent, it was clear that God’s rescue operation was started, but not completed. When Jesus came the first time, He launched the kingdom of God on earth as it was in heaven. Yet it was clear that this kingdom was purposed to make its way through the life and service of Christ’s followers as an almost imperceptible mustard seed (Matthew 13:31) until the second advent – the time when Jesus will return to make all things right, to banish evil and death forever and unite heaven and earth as one. Thus, in Advent we look back to the expectancy of the ancients, allowing God to fill us with the same expectancy that just as He came the first time, He will come a second time without sin unto salvation.
I remember as a kid in church, nearly every service brought a mention of the second coming of Christ. We lived our lives with a great sense of anticipation and, unfortunately, that has eroded somewhat over time. When that day comes, however, it promises to be the greatest day in the history of the universe, because the same Son of God who came as a baby in Bethlehem will return as a King to clean up this mess once and for all.
In the meantime, the expectancy of the Advent season can fill us with renewed strength to live out the reality of the Kingdom on earth. My prayer is that we would truly become “Advent People” – people who bring light to a dark world; people of hope in times and places of despair; people who truly follow Jesus.
Part of the Advent celebration is the Advent wreath which has four candles of various colors, depending on the tradition, representing hope, love, joy and peace. Many Christians place the wreath in their home and light the candle at night, reflecting on that week’s aspect of the celebration. The first candle, a purple one, is the candle of hope, representing the expectant hope of the coming of Christ. When we light this candle, whether a physical candle, or one in our hearts, we use the light to help us prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ into our current reality. As we do, we receive God’s light as we meditate on the words of the prophet Isaiah:
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2 NIV)
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)
I would venture to say that most of us are waiting on something and for some, this waiting is so difficult, it is boring a hole in your life. You’re waiting for the check to come, the healing to be realized, the injunction to be resolved. You’re waiting for your children to come back to faith or for the relationship to be restored. Whatever it is, in the midst of this, what you are really waiting on with expectant hope is for the Savior to come and burst into the darkness of the situation, breaking through with the light. Simply put:
Advent is Knowing that Jesus is Coming
It’s expectant hope that He is going to come through, though it may happen in unexpected ways. My encouragement to you is to celebrate Advent in some unique way in your life this season, opening up to the hope, love, joy and peace that only Jesus can bring.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own peopledid not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:9-13 ESV)
Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (John 8:12 ESV)