This upcoming Sunday, November 27, marks the official beginning of the Season of Advent, our time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas.
The word “advent” simply means the arrival or coming of something long anticipated; you can see it’s obvious connection with the celebration of Christmas, the long-awaited arrival of the Messiah. So, in observing Advent, either personally or as a community, it includes three ‘layers’: past, present, and future. The basic, sort of ‘surface level’, meaning of Advent acknowledges and prepares us to celebrate the past, historical coming (ie. Advent) of Jesus as a human child in the town of Bethlehem, 2,000 years ago. The second layer of Advent is about the present arrival of Christ in each one of our own lives. The third layer is about the future Advent of Christ when he returns to reclaim his fallen creation and establish his rightful rule.
As our schedules become increasingly hectic, even chaotic, I find it incredibly helpful to set aside time to focus on these three aspects of Christ’s presence in the world: 1) past – what has Christ done among us and for us? 2) present – what is Christ doing in my life; in our lives? 3) future – what will Christ accomplish, what is he calling us to as we anticipate and prepare for his return?
What might it look like for you to set aside time every day over the next four weeks to ask these three simple questions: what has God done? What is he doing? What will he do? And then follow that up with one more, probing question: how can the Holy Spirit use the answers to those questions to shape how we live and interact with those around us?
I hope each one of us can use some of these ideas and questions to help us grow closer to Jesus over the coming weeks. We’ll also be engaging with some of these themes as we gather together for our Sunday worship.
So, as far as this blog post goes, feel free to leave it at that. If this little introduction to Advent and these questions have given you something to think about and will help you engage more deeply in your personal devotion to Jesus and how we engage in worship as we gather together… perfect! Feel free to leave it at that and don’t worry about reading the rest!
Also, if you would like a digital copy of our Jesse Tree booklet for daily scripture readings through Advent, just click here: (jesse-tree-booklet-2016).
But, if you’re looking for something a little bit extra, I’ll leave you with a handful of my personal thoughts on why I’ve found observing Advent to be such a helpful practice in my personal and family life:
The Spirit of God calls us to, and enables us to live lives of self-control (Gal. 5:23) and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7). However, looking at the way our culture interacts with the holiday season, some of the last words I would ever use to describe it would be control or discipline. Instead, words like excess and indulgence come to mind. And so, one of the reasons why I have personally found practicing Advent helpful is because it directly addresses a number of the issues caused by the secularisation of the holidays (and remember, holiday means “holy-day” so, yes, these are the holy-days, the days set aside for God’s purposes).
I think we all know that the secularised “holiday” season ends up emphasising things like: Consumerism/Materialism, Individualism, and Instant-Gratification.
In stark contrast, Advent calls us to practice virtues like: Submission, Self-denial, and Delayed-Gratification. By graciously living differently, by lovingly putting into practice deliberately Biblical, counter-cultural practices we become living examples of a different way of life. Thus, practicing things such as Advent can not only be a form of personal spiritual-formation, but can also bear witness to what a Jesus-centred life can look like.
Now, one of the delightfully ironic thing about this is that submission, self-denial, and delayed-gratification naturally give birth to freedom, joy, and celebration. Just as a simple example of this, every year our family practices Advent together. Through daily family prayer and scripture reading we prepare for Christmas focusing on and regularly discussing all of the themes I’ve mentioned above. Now, my boys are currently 9 and 6 years old. You’d think that something like, say, delayed-gratification wouldn’t be an overly popular concept among boys in this age bracket. However, much to my surprise (and great joy!) for the past week or so they’ve kept asking/harassing us about when Advent starts, when can we start our readings, etc. These boys are excited, they can’t wait for us to enter our time of expectation and anticipation!
[However, lest you get the impression that my boys are aberrations or some weird semi-angelic beings: all throughout Advent they regularly get into fights about who gets to light the candle, who gets to lead the prayer-time, and so on… they’re still normal(ish).]
Anyway, I’ll leave it at that for now. By no means do you need to agree with every point that I’ve tried to make, but perhaps this has given you a little food-for-thought or some ideas about how you can prepare for the time of celebration that is just around the corner! And, really, all of this comes down to our various attempts to live out an answer to the age-old question: How can we live a Christ-centred life that is both visibly different and equally attractive to those around us.