Well, it’s December again, and most churches are looking different by now. Christmas trees have started popping up in sanctuaries, foyers, classrooms, and hallways. Greenery woven into wreaths and strands of garland is being hung inside and out, and multitudes of lights ensure that no one fails to notice the church’s holiday attire. In many, perhaps most, of them, a specially colored grouping of candles has been added to the display of seasonal trappings and given a prominent place in the main worship room. They are the “Advent candles,” and for millions of church-goers around the world, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the systematic lighting of these candles.
The ritualistic lighting of Advent candles is intended to encourage a process of spiritual introspection in preparation for celebrating the coming of the Messiah. Special sermons and activities are designed to expound on various Advent themes and direct attention toward the central ideas associated with the season. In a world where the worst examples of human behavior seem to lead the news cycles every day, Advent offers a refreshing escape. Whether the candle lighting ritual is observed where we worship or not, this is a time of year when we are invited to abandon our usual routines and thought patterns and be ushered into a place where the promises of God rise up to contradict hopelessness and where our fears are confronted with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
A Radically Different Process ~
The process God used to prepare people for the first coming of Christ was radically different from the Advent celebrations we see today. There were no religious traditions guiding that first Advent season. No wreaths were hung, no candles lit, no concerts presented, and there were no parties to attend. Crowds of spectators did show up, but it wasn’t to see the sights. It was to hear the message, but the messenger they came to hear wouldn’t have won any pulpiteering popularity contests. He was a living violation of social norms and accepted religious practices. His name was John, and his only title was “the baptist”.
John had no impressive credentials and no impressive letters of commendation from prevailing religious authorities. Actually, everything about him represented the antithesis of the religious hierarchy of his day, but it wasn’t the contrast between him and his religious contemporaries that made his ministry powerful. His sermons were compelling, but not because of his personality. It was the reality of the news he was bringing that made his preaching captivating. And it was the intensely personal implications associated with what God was about to do that brought the crowds. People didn’t walk for miles to witness a series of religious traditions and rituals. They came to hear about someone who could deliver them from the sins that plagued their lives.
No Program Directors ~
Clearly, God’s approach to Advent was not to send a program director. His response was to send a messenger with news that would change the world. God’s plan centered on heralding the promise that He was going to show up in a way that no one anticipated and do things that had never been done. Maybe if we adopted some of the primary elements of the message that penetrated hearts and changed lives back then, we would begin to see some of the same kinds of dramatic results today. A few of those primary elements are worth highlighting.
This time of year seems to draw our attention toward reviewing the history of Jesus coming more than the reality of what lies ahead. Everything about that first Advent season looked forward not backward. We certainly need to remember those things that preceded His first arrival, but there are promises about another Advent yet to come.
Now when He [Jesus] had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9-11 (NKJV)
God’s original Advent message was not that some new movement was about to erupt, or that some exciting new theological approach was about to be unveiled. The news being heralded was not that “something” was coming, but that “someOne” was coming. The focus of God’s message was that everything would rest on the shoulders of the One who was coming, and the eternal future of every human being would be determined by how they respond to Him. The message of Advent is that the One upon whom everything depends is coming.
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11 (NKJV)
Another Outcome to be Considered ~
There was a kind of “double-edged sword” tone to that first Advent message. The One who was coming would bring the incredible promise of grace and forgiveness of sins through faith in Him alone, but there was another side to be considered. If all hope for redemption was found in Him, then rejecting Him meant turning away from the only possibility of escape from judgment that would result in eternal condemnation.
Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Luke 3:8-10 (NKJV)
That first Advent made it clear that the Son of God was not just coming to us, He was coming for us in the most profoundly significant way that we could ever imagine. He was coming to take away our sins and bring us into an eternal relationship with God that was like His own. John encapsulated that purpose in his spontaneous outburst upon seeing Jesus.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! “John 1:29 (NKJV)
So, whether we participate in lighting Advent candles or not, let’s not let this season pass without realizing that the One who came to redeem us is coming again to take us home. Until that day comes, we should understand that it’s really Advent all year long, and we have a vital message to proclaim.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to Tweet & Share from the pull quotes below. Each quote links directly back to this article through Twitter.
- “People didn’t walk for miles to witness a series of religious traditions and rituals. They came to hear about someone who could deliver them from the sins that plagued their lives.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “God’s approach to Advent was to send a messenger with news that would change the world. His plan centered on heralding the promise that He was going to show up in a way that no one anticipated and do things that had never been done.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The focus of God’s message was that everything would rest on the shoulders of the One who was coming, and the eternal future of every human being would be determined by how they respond to Him. The message of Advent is that the One upon whom everything depends is coming. @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The Son of God was not just coming to us, but for us in the most profoundly significant way that we could ever imagine. He was coming to take away our sins and bring us into an eternal relationship with God that was like His own. @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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