The season of advent is a few short weeks away. While many of us see a 13-day countdown to turkey and all the fixings and a 42-day countdown for Christmas stockings, many of us tend to overlook the liturgical calendar, the calendar based on Jesus’ life and way. The first Sunday of Advent is not until November 29th this year, but it is worth preparing your mind and heart for such a season now.
For many of us Advent, meaning “coming”, reminds us of a busy time of year. We have to schedule several parties, prepare for family gatherings, max out our credit cards for gifts, shop all the deals, wrap all our presents, decorate trees and homes, plan holiday menus, and execute our favorite traditions. When we hear the holidays are coming we may start perspiring, stress levels may raise and to-do lists may start piling in our heads. We plan extremely hard for these moments and even take time to evaluate our lives at the end of the year to set new goals for ourselves and our families; we name our resolutions. We plan and run around and do and stress with little personal reflection or growth.
Advent means coming, but not coming of holidays, this season is about the coming of Jesus. There are two ways to look at Advent: remembering the coming of Christ thousands of years ago and celebrating Jesus’ second coming.
As we approach the holidays this year reflect on Jesus’ humility and love shown: “though He was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.” (Phil. 2:6-7) This season is about Jesus, the “word made flesh” (John 1:14). He came to earth to reconcile us to God (2 Cor. 5:17-18). He suffered like no one else and was tempted like everyone else. (Heb. 4:15) He is the ultimate example of humility and a servant. The coming of Jesus is to be remembered for many reasons. One of my favorite Christmas hymns summarizes it best:
O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining ‘til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
Truly He taught us to love one another. He law is love and His gospel is peace.
In addition to remembering Jesus’ birth we also look towards the second coming of Christ. The second coming marks the end of time as we know it and we will once again be reconciled to our Creator spirit-to-spirit and face-to-face. When most people think of the second coming minds jump to judgment. This is certainly a part of it, but there is much beauty for those who believe. Jesus uses the imagery of sheep and goats in one of His parables. On the last day He will sort sheep to one side and goats to another. The sheep will find divine favor inheriting the Kingdom of God while the goats will be released to the fire along with the devil and his demons. (Matthew 25: 31-46)
The second coming also signifies our own resurrections. I Corinthians 15 teaches us how our earthly bodies must die in order to be raised in our new heavenly bodies. Just as Jesus was resurrected from the dead, so will we. Even in Job, Daniel, the gospels and in the epistles we are told death is not death, the dead are merely sleeping until the second coming of Christ. Throughout the New Testament the second coming was treated as if it were imminent. Clearly, this was not the case back then, but no one knows so we must all be ready. Jesus warns in Matthew that it will come like a thief in the night. (Mt. 24) We must keep watch. Celebrating Advent reminds us of the imminent second coming. Remembering Jesus is coming again reminds our hearts to be ready. There is another hymn that captures this truth beautifully:
O Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight. The clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend; even so, it is well with my soul.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s like everyone around you. There is no harm in going around the table naming something for which you are thankful. There is no harm in gathering with loved ones over good food, good music, and some gift giving. There is no harm in evaluating the last year and setting goals for the new one. These traditions are fine, but they are simply that, just fine.
When we take the time to celebrate Advent remembering Jesus’ birth we open ourselves up to more than the warm and fuzzy feelings that are shared over hot cocoa and spiced apple cider. As we focus our lives during this season towards celebrating Jesus’ birth we are pushed to be the ultimate example of humility just as our God was willing to do for us. Gratitude overflows in our hearts as we recognize the sacrifice made by God in order for us to be closer to Him. Compassion is incorporated into our holiday season as we take the favor shown by Jesus to us and we show similar favor to our neighbors.
When we take the time to celebrate Advent as preparation for the second coming of Jesus rather than the coming of our traditions we remember the reality we find ourselves in; we have little control over our future. There is only one thing our future depends on and that is whether or not we have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Trust is challenged and built up as we await the coming of Jesus to free us from the chains of this world. Our fears will one day be forgotten; our oppression will one day cease; and our damaging selfishness will one day melt away. More than anything during the season of Advent our spirits are taught patience. We need patience as we wait for Jesus to come again, reminding us in the most powerful way of our soul’s worth.
So, as you prepare to party, gather, shop, wrap, decorate, eat and celebrate think through your reason for preparing for these events. As you witness the coming of this holiday season may you remember the coming of Jesus. While you continue with your many traditions may Jesus be at the center reminding you of humility, loss of control, trust, gratitude, patience and compassion. May these virtues fuel your celebrations.