And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
The fourth Sunday prior to Christmas begins a time that the Christian Church has titled The Season of Advent. The title Advent comes from the Latin term Adventus Domini – the coming of the Lord.
A somber period prior to a significant celebration is common to most religions. As early as the late 4th and early 5th centuries there are records within the Christian Church of “fasts of preparation” for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Some started as early as November 11; other preparation was on three days each week; some severe fasts were only expected of the monastics and clergy. Just as Lent is a disciplined and somber time before the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter, Advent has called Christians to a somber time of preparation for Christmas.
The focus of Advent evolved into time of preparation for more than just the celebration of Jesus’ first coming. Advent became a time when Christians are called to prepare for the second coming of Jesus.
There would appear to be a significant clash between the themes of the Church during the weeks before Christmas, and, the reality most Christians experience these weeks in 1st World countries. This clash has heightened in recent decades.
Some people urge the Church to abandon its traditional focus of Advent, but its themes have a constructive place during this season. There is value in hearing something that provides balance and perspective to what is surrounding us in society. Christians can incorporate and be enriched by the somber words and promises of Advent while still fulfilling their personal December traditions. The two can be mutual and not polar opposites.
When Paul wrote the Christians in Philippi (in the scripture quoted at the start) he expresses the goal that they live prepared for “the day of Christ”, the second coming of Jesus. At the same time he prays that their love may overflow and that they produce a harvest of righteousness.
As you travel through Advent, here are five points to ponder:
- It is the people that matter. As we prepare to celebrate the gift from God of his son, we should remember that we received this gift because God wants us to know him. There should be no doubt that God values people above rules and rites, things and traditions. December can be a time when we become so focused on doing things that people get lost.
- Enjoy yourself! Jesus did – and he never had anything for which to be ashamed. We have all seen the sign: “Everything I like is either immoral, illegal or fattening.” It reflects a deep rooted but false belief that if something is fun it is automatically a sin. Sometimes that is true, but sin and fun are not synonymous. The classic example is the Wedding feast at Cana. Jesus not only participated; he also provided wine. Paul wrote the folk seeking that their love not their gloom would overflow. Jesus does not call us to prepare for his birthday by being grumpy.
- December is not the time to leave one’s spiritual life to chance. December is a busy month. If we are not intentional, our spiritual life can be ignored. Even if you have not needed to be intentional about devotions at other times, this is the season to make sure there is time set aside for them. Those few moments will help keep our priorities in shape so Christmas Eve will be a celebration with more meaning. That is all part of living as a witness to Jesus’ first coming and preparing for his second.
- Use Advent for your advantage. An often ignored message of Advent is HOPE; it is a message that many people need to hear. December, with all its sentimentality, can be a very empty and fearful time. The pain that is deepest can also be very hidden. Advent reminds us that God knows OUR needs and will come to us as surely as he came to the stable at Bethlehem. Christianity does not run away from the realities of life; it does not try to deny them with cosmetic tricks or frenetic activity. Christianity confronts them with the candor, hope and love.
- Be a participant rather than just a spectator this season. The more you hunger for meaning at this time of the year, the more you need to immerse yourself as a participant. His may be a challenge, but participating can bring alive the words of the season.
Eternal God, fill our lives with a genuine, joyful confidence in your faithfulness that inspires us to live each day boldly, and, to lift our eyes beyond this moment to the promise that you will one day come to gather us with you to eternal glory. Amen
— Pastor Mueller