I guess that most of us are thinking about Christmas at this time. Where will you spend Christmas this year, and who with? Who will be doing the cooking? Will you have time to prepare sufficiently? Started Christmas shopping yet? Concerned about shop supplies?
If you wish that things could slow down; that there was time to prepare both Christmas and the New Year in advance; that somehow you could find more of Jesus in the coming days, take heart from the following.
We tend to think of Christmas as being the break at the end of the year, merging into the break for the New Year only one week later. Advent doesn’t seem to come into the picture apart from advent calendars or advent candles.
So, what are those differences?
Well, the first one is that in the earlier church, Christmas was celebrated as the first celebration of the church year, not the last. It was where the year started, not where it finished. This meant that the rock, the foundation for the year, was the celebration of the coming of Jesus, filling Christians with hope and certainty because the baby born in a Manger is called Immanuel, God With Us, and he will remain with us for every moment of the coming year.
The second big difference is to do with the celebration of Advent itself. Whereas we – depending on our tradition – may use Advent as an opportunity to make young children excited about Christmas, the earlier Church put great value on it and used it as a time of preparation for both Christmas and the coming year. In fact, a rightly observed Advent could supercharge the Christmas experience for adults.
There were four particular areas of focus during Advent.
1. The past. The Incarnation, the birth of The Word clothed in human flesh. Immanuel, God with us.
2. The present. The coming of Jesus into our personal life through a supernatural new birth. Christ in you, the hope of glory.
3. The future. The second coming. Us with him forever.
4. More about this one later…
Let’s look at those first three areas and see how they are so urgently relevant for you and me in this season. Looking at them in order:
1. THE PAST
God kept his promises in sending Jesus, the Messiah. Surely this was the most audacious act of prophesy found throughout the Old Testament. God himself appearing in human flesh, the Son, walking amongst men in their likeness.
The incarnation happened at the most unlikely of moments in history There had been silence from heaven. Generation upon generation had learned the promises but had never heard a prophetic word. Israel was now an occupied territory. Uprisings were brutally squashed. Life was dark and tough.
Then – a common enough event: a baby was born.
(Our young granddaughter, Millie, aged 4, had asked Jesus for a sister, which seemed very unlikely, and been given unshakeable faith that she had been heard. When a baby was expected she was given the honour of naming the one for who’s coming she had faithfully prayed. ‘Melody’, she said. Daphne and I will never forget passing the telephone to her and seeing her face when her Dad called from the Hospital months later to say that she had a little baby sister. She stood gazing into space, nearly dropped the ‘phone, and filled with wonder, slowly said – ‘Melody has come’.)
But Mary’s baby was like no other. Immanuel had secretly arrived. ‘God with us’ – was with us!
Are you waiting for the fulfilment of dreams and promises in your personal life?
Then take courage from the following points.
- First – God keeps his promises, acting in his own way, not ours
- Second – He acts on his own timing and seasons, not ours
- Third – We have previously received fulfilled promises in our own experience
- Fourth – His hand ultimately directs human history and destiny, including yours
2. THE PRESENT
The words of Jesus are bold, shocking, in your face, unequivocal. ‘I am The Way, The Truth and the Light. No-one comes to the Father but by me.’
That’s some claim. The issue for those who want to argue with us that there are lots of valid ways to God is – we are not the ones who are making these claims. It’s Jesus. Therefore, they have to make a response regarding the person of Jesus himself. Are they saying that Jesus is a liar or a deceiver? Mad, or deluded? They then have to look at the life of Jesus and test their verdict against the open record of his character, his words and his deeds. That’s before we even get to the Biggy – the resurrection and public appearances of Jesus.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, the Teacher of Israel, ‘Here is a truth; unless a man is born again by the spirit of God, he cannot perceive the Kingdom of God.’
Here are some questions for us as we prepare for Christmas and the New Year.
- First – Are you confident that the Lord Jesus is resident in your own heart by the Holy Spirit? Christ in you, the hope of glory?
- Second – Are you inwardly assured that your sins are forgiven through the shedding of the blood of the Lord Jesus?
- Third – In what ways are you actively trusting in him for today and tomorrow?
- Fourth – Are you seeking the Kingdom of God, his loving yet powerful rule and righteousness, in your own life and in the world around you? How?
3. THE FUTURE
Looking at the Christmas events of 2,000 years ago is rather like looking at a multi-faceted diamond. We see promises kept, hope and yearnings fulfilled. We see the Ultimate gift clothed in swaddling clothes, born in absolute humility and vulnerability. We see Mary, with words kept hidden in her heart. Joseph, probably feeling totally out of his depth yet playing a protective and loving role. We see angels, hear singing; the skies ringing; shepherds arriving in wonder. We recognise the inability of God to stay silent at such a moment. This is his Son in whom he is well pleased.
We might also see a foreshadowing of coming rejection; of brooding grief; of a cross and a shameful death. Of a people called by God’s name who are unable to recognise the gift or the giver, blind to what their God is doing. They stoned the prophets and will assuredly kill the Son. Unable to recognise the day of his appearing.
You and I might also see a glimmer of a Crown, of a kingly power and authority that is not of this world. We see something else. His passing, his Ascension, will not be the end of the matter, of here today but gone tomorrow. This birth changes everything forever. It changes your life and mine for eternity. For this Jesus, who will ascend in the clouds to sit at the right hand of the Father, will return on the clouds of heaven, like lightning, and every eye shall see him coming with the hosts of heaven. And amazingly, you and I shall be caught up with him in that coming, in his fully displayed radiance of the glory of God, and then we shall be with him forever.
No more tears, no more death, no more pain, no more mourning or pain. All things will bow before the feet of Jesus and yield to his rule, confessing him the Lord.
That’s your future and my future. The end of this age and the beginning of something glorious. Then we will be with him, and he with us, for always.
Here are some more questions for our consideration.
- First – Is the promised Second Coming a reality to you? Do you really believe that he will come again in this way?
- Second – How prominent is the promise of his coming in your conscious daily thinking?
- Third – How well do you know the scriptures concerning his Second Coming?
- Fourth – “You proclaim the Lord’s death – until he comes”. Do you consciously look forward to his coming again when you participate at the Lord’s Table?
A Very Practical Advent Conclusion
Could you adopt the earlier church pattern and consciously use Advent as a time to rebalance your spiritual life? This would mean:
Realigning your thinking so that Christmas becomes the joyful start of the coming year; a sort of advance New Year party! Starting with a God who is with us at the opening of the year and has promised to give us all we need, day by day, during the year to come.
Take some time to reconsider your understanding of God’s faithfulness in the past, his presence with us today, regardless of circumstances, and his coming again.
All this can come by looking afresh at some pertinent scriptures and taking time to engage your imagination and meditate on them, such as:
- The gospel narratives of Jesus’ birth. Matt 1:18-2:12; Lk 1:26-38 and 2:1-21
- 100 verses regarding the Second Coming: https://openbible.info/topics/the_second_coming_of_jesus
If you are wondering about the missing 4th difference, here it comes: Fasting! It was part of the Advent season. In the earlier church a day of fasting meant missing two meals and eating a main evening meal. Life for us is at a different pace and we have different needs. You could choose which meals to miss. What if you were to fast like this on two days for each Advent week? Why? To keep reminding yourself of the season of reflection, driving you back to prayer and the scriptures, and pulling yourself into that realigned consciousness that the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever, was with you yesterday, is with you today, and one day will be with you forever.
Advent begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas, but earlier Christians gave themselves more time to get serious by starting on 15th November. Might that be helpful for you?
Heavenly Father, we thank you for being the one who has been unchangeable, a rock in time of trouble, who remains unchangeable and mighty in power today, and who will remain unchangeable, clothed in power, love and mercy forever.
Father, your word says that my life is hidden in Christ. I thank you that you have made me alive in my spirit, that you have always been with me, even in the worst of times, and you will always be with me throughout eternity. Thank you for such love, such grace.
Please help me to align my thinking to your presence in my past, my present and my future. Please guide me in my preparations for the coming Christmas and New Year seasons. You belong at the heart of them and yours is the heartbeat that truly sustains me. Help me to lean on your chest.
I bless each of you this moment in the Name of Jesus, that his grace may rest upon you in your Christmas and New Year preparations. I bless you in Jesus’ name that he may make you sufficient in dealing with everything that may occur.
I bless you in Jesus’ name that the Father may turn his face towards you, sustaining you, lighting your footsteps with the shining of his face. I bless you in Jesus’ name that he might fill you with his shalom; his peace.
I bless you in Jesus’ name that the Holy Spirit might come upon you, filling you with hope and insight, and anointing you for every good work.
So Be It. Blessing upon blessing.
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© Roy Godwin 2021