I did not begin my ministry as a Pastor decades ago observing Advent. I needed to learn for myself that Advent is a special season anticipating the arrival of the Lord Jesus. I have come to completely embrace the season. Here’s why: I found in Advent a solution to the problem of secular Christmas vs. spiritual Christmas. We as Christians recognize that Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It’s a holiday that focuses on the meaning of the Incarnation. Yet, given the secular traditions of Christmas, we spend much of our time preparing, not for a celebration of the birth of Jesus, but for fulfilling the demands of the holidays. We buy lots of presents for lots of people and make sure they are all wrapped and delivered. We attend and host holiday parties. We have relatives who come to visit, and/or we are the relatives who go elsewhere to visit. Christmas cards need to get out, and the annual Christmas letter often turns into a project for next year. Our holiday season requires lots of planning and energy, and it can end up being downright exhausting. If we have younger children, we may very well spend hours trying to assemble gifts on Christmas Day that come with sketchy instructions written by someone for whom English is, at best, a third language….
Christ can, ironically, get pushed out of Christmas, not by unchurched non-Christians, but by us. But Advent helps us come back to God and put our focus and our delight where it rightly belongs: in Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Embedded within the season of Advent are a message and a mission. The Gospel of John begins with the great proclamation: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” God has entered into human history in the person of Jesus. It is a message of grace and hope, completely centering round Christ. It is a story – the greatest ever told – of God loving his creatures so much as to become one of them. This redemption narrative gives shape to our own witness. We simply tell the story of God’s love to humanity through the sending of the Son, Jesus, to deliver us from sin, death, and hell and bring us into a kingdom full of grace, joy, wholeness, and love.
So, how, then, do we keep our focus where it needs to be during the month of December and observe the Advent season? First of all, attend Advent services. Pay attention to the Advent Wreath and candles, the special readings, and all the heightened awareness of Christ’s coming. Another way to focus on Jesus is by enjoying Advent music. This sounds easy, but really is not. There are hundreds of popular Christmas songs and carols, played everywhere during Advent, from churches, to gas stations and shopping malls. There are comparatively few Advent songs, though many songs and carols do touch upon Advent themes of waiting, hoping, and yearning for God. Other ideas for Advent can include: putting together an Advent Wreath at home; and, using a Nativity scene with lots of pieces as an Advent Calendar, adding one character to the scene every day.
A practical way I discovered in remembering Advent is standing in the long lines of stores during the holidays. A few years back I was going nuts waiting in a crazy long line with a cashier who was clearly seasonal help. As my frustration mounted, God did what God often does with me. He asked a question. “Tim, why are you so upset?” “Duh, God! This stupid line and slow cashier!” “Tim, what is my Advent really all about?” I was busted. As a Pastor I tell others about the time of waiting and anticipation, but here I was selfishly impatient.
Go ahead and try it out this season. Let the inevitable standing in line be a reminder that Advent is really about waiting and patiently anticipating the coming of the Lord Jesus. Let’s be honest. You are going to wait whether you like it or not. If by God’s grace you don’t stand in a line, you will instead wait in the heavy holiday traffic that moves at a snail’s pace. But you and I have a choice. Either the wait will form us for naught or for good. Let’s allow the time of waiting to bring a fresh Advent spirit into our lives this season so that our Christmas will be a glorious one.