Over almost 25 years of weekly preaching and leading worship, I have sometimes found the season of Advent a challenge. The Season of Advent consists of the four Sundays (weeks) leading up to Christmas Day, and we just entered this season on Sunday. In my experience, one of the things that makes this season challenging is that there is often so much talk of Christmas, that people do not really know what to do with Advent. And when I have tried to do so, at times, there is resistance to “go there” because we just can’t wait to get to Christmas!
I get that.
But there is more to this season than a build-up to Christmas.
Advent reminds us of the people of God long ago who yearned for a deliverer. Many of the promises of Scripture that speak of the coming of that deliverer—the Messiah—are found in literature that is centered in and around exile. More specifically, the people of God were captured and taken into exile in a foreign land for their disobedience to God. To be exiled, to be taken from the land is to be taken from the Temple, which was—to their understanding—to be removed from God’s very presence.
If we let it, Advent can remind us that, once upon a time, we too were distant from God, unaware of God’s love and mercy, and spiritually “exiled”. We, too, needed a deliverer. For we could not deliver ourselves.
The other challenge for me in this season is that—to put it bluntly—I just got tired of talking about the baby Jesus in the manger all the time. Before you pick up stones and stone me for blasphemy, let me quickly add that it wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate or was tired of the birth of Christ. I just found it tiring to find new ways to preach through the story each year; to find some “fresh angle.” I mean, how much more is there left to say once you’ve covered this territory for four weeks a year for almost 25 years?!
It turns out, more than I thought at the time.
Over the past few years, I’ve come to appreciate something beyond the baby Jesus in the manger. For, as heartwarming and wonderful as the Nativity Story is, what draws me to worship God is the theological truth behind it: the Incarnation. That’s a fancy theological word that simply refers to (what I’ve come to realize is) the most profound thing in the Universe: God took on flesh and bone and became one of us! Or, as the Gospel of John so eloquently puts it, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1.14).
If you would like a little guidance in preparing your heart to celebrate the birth of Christ, you can sign up for daily Advent Prompts via text messages or emails (each weekday during the season of Advent). Sign up in one of the following ways:
- Go to https://www.remind.com/join and use the class code: @advent-ecc.
- Send a text message to: 81010 and include the word @advent-ecc in the body of the text message.
- You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org if you need us to sign you up, as well. We are happy to help.
My prayer is that in the four weeks to come, we will all remember our own exiles, our own waywardness before we came to Christ, and that we will consider all the ways our hearts are “prone to wander” even now.
And then, as we round the last corner and head toward Christmas Day, may we rejoice that God has indeed sent us a Deliverer. He is Christ! He is the Word made flesh! He is Emmanuel—God with us! May we all find new joy and new energy to worship him with every fiber of our being, and may this newfound joy and energy pour out of us and pave the way into the New Year.