Welcome to the month that once-upon-a-time heralded the arrival of the Christmas season. Traditionally, December brought with it special sights, sounds, and stories designed to remind us of the astounding reality that the living God became one of us. Now, of course, it heralds a non-stop deluge of fictional content that has no connection with reality. The general culture has decided that publicly acknowledging the historical event that actually took place in Bethlehem would be too divisive, and some people would find references to Jesus offensive. For them, another option had to be offered that they would see as less discriminatory and more politically and socially acceptable. So, in the public arena, “Silent Night” has been all but drowned out by “Here Comes Santa Claus”.
Potential Adjustments? ~
It is surprising, though, that Santa’s penchant for referring to children exclusively as “boys” or “girls” is tolerated. But that could soon change. Since the “woke progressives” running most of our major institutions cannot possibly tell the difference between the two, that category may soon be replaced. Referring to children as “boys” and “girls” may have to give way to more acceptable terms like “future fascist oppressors” and “non-binary victims of systematic discrimination”.
But at this point, the end result is still basically allowed. Those deemed to be “nice” get a variety of material rewards paid for with somebody else’s money (a process that the current culture loves), while those in the naughty class are openly humiliated. All they get is a stigmatizing, ego-crushing, carbon-producing, planet-destroying lump of coal. Though their dismantling of traditional Christmas is still a work in progress, at least the Godless Christmas advocates don’t have to deal with disturbing things like truth, honesty, and unconditional love.
Advent, that tradition, as Christmas approaches, of emphasizing the coming of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, offers us an escape from the fantasy world and calls us to focus on something eternally real. Advent is about anticipation, and anticipation can open doors to benefits more powerful than we tend to think. That reality hit home recently from a direction I never considered — and one that has no overt connection to Advent or anything directly concerned with Christmas.
An Unexpected Question ~
Like many middle class Americans, I opened an IRA account years ago. It was for money I had no intention of using until much later in my life. The deposits made to the account were set aside for our retirement and not something we could make withdrawals from unless there was some kind of dire financial crisis that made it necessary. And to bolster my capacity for self-restraint, the government imposed some pretty hefty penalties for going after the deposits earlier than the program allowed. We treated it as money we had, but didn’t have, a safety net of sorts if things got bad, but not to be used for ordinary necessities. The arrival of Advent prompted me to ask myself if I treated some of the promises of God like that.
I wondered whether I have unintentionally looked at some of the benefits God offers like some kind of spiritual IRA. I know that the promise of eternal life that Jesus died to ensure will sustain me when the day arrives for me to “retire” from life on this planet, but have I ignored other benefits that are available right now?
Withdrawals Are Allowed ~
When we confess our sins and place our faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are “born” into God’s family. He sets apart a place for us in His incredibly expansive house. But there’s more involved than just a new home address for eternity. In a sense, we might say that He also establishes a Heavenly account in our name and deposits treasures in it that the combined wealth of the universe couldn’t buy. All of it will be there waiting for us whenever we get home, of course, but it has benefits that are available for withdrawal right now and practicing the phenomenon of anticipation is a key to releasing them. Jesus Himself demonstrated that.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2 NKJV)
It was as though Jesus reached into the future and grabbed hold of the joy that was waiting for Him in Heaven. Then He brought it back to the midst of the torturous trial ahead of Him and embraced it as though everything it represented was already present, and by the power of God, it was. His trust in the certainty of the joy awaiting Him allowed its strength to flow into his battered and abused body and it sustained Him.
Later, the Apostle Paul would exhibit the power of anticipation in a similar way. When he was making his last trip to Jerusalem, he was warned about the persecution awaiting him. But he envisioned what was waiting for him when his race was finally run. Like Jesus, he reached out by faith beyond the trials confronting him and laid hold of the joy that was already his, and that joy poured all the sustaining strength he needed into him. He expressed it to the Ephesian elders like this:
And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, (Acts 20:22–24 NKJV)
Peter would also encourage the followers of Jesus who were undergoing persecution to employ the power of focused anticipation in a similar way:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:6–9 NKJV)
Envisioning the Future – Empowering the Present ~
Advent calls us to focus on the future, not the past. Remembering that night when the living God breathed air into human lungs is an incredibly uplifting experience, but the power to endure the trials we face and to overcome the evil that surrounds us demands looking beyond that night. Advent reminds us that our Savior came, but it can also remind us that He’s alive and will be coming again to take us to be with Him forever.
Embracing the joy awaiting us is sufficient to bring transforming revival to this nation and healing to every sin battered soul. May this Advent season inspire each of us to reach out beyond our present circumstances, lay hold of the joy that awaits us, and embrace it like its power is already ours – here and now – because it is.
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “When we confess our sins and place our faith in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we’re born into God’s family. In a sense, He establishes a Heavenly account in our name and deposits treasures that the combined wealth of the universe can’t buy.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “When Paul made his last trip to Jerusalem, he was warned about the persecution awaiting him. He reached out by faith beyond the trials confronting him & laid hold of the joy that was already his. It was the sustaining strength he needed.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Embracing the joy awaiting us is sufficient to bring transforming revival to this nation and healing to every sin battered soul.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “May this Advent season inspire each of us to reach out beyond our present circumstances and lay hold of the joy that awaits us and embrace it like its power is already ours here and now – because it is.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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As I often find myself doing when I read your posts, “I laughed until I cried.” Another great example of why I so enjoy reading both your musings and your exhortations my friend. As I read your opening paragraph, my mind raced back to one of my favorite CHRISTmas memories. It was how my adopted mama cackled with joy when she shared with us boys that we had one more present on the tree that CHRISTmas morning. My brothers, Ray, Paul, and I each found a small Ziplock baggie with mini marshmallows and a note that read, “You’ve been bad, so here’s the scoop. All you get is snowman poop.” We howled at her humorous gift, and I make one each year to hide in someone’s stocking. I think my friend Mr. John will be this year’s recipient. 🙂 We should send a truckload of these to Congress! Now, to the important stuff.
I so loved your thought, “Advent is about anticipation.” While we haven’t observed a traditional Advent countdown here, I do two things to observe the importance of the real meaning of CHRISTmas. One I observe is reading one chapter of the book of Luke (starting on December 1st and finishing on CHRISTmas Eve). The second is a newer tradition, but I use the “30 Thankful Prayers” from the Navigator’s Discipleship Tool as a prompt for prayer each evening. I begin the Friday night after Thanksgiving, and pray one per night, ending on CHRISTmas Eve.
Last, I welcomed your thoughts about a Spiritual IRA. Several years ago, I too had a thought along those lines. I called mine a SRA (Spiritual Retirement Account). I too recognized that I both made deposits and withdrawals every day. My deposits are those things done with a cheerful heart that brings glory to God and furthers His kingdom. My withdrawals are those times when I have to confess, repent, and draw upon His endless supply of grace and mercy. My SRA idea came from the words of James 2:18, when I realized that if I am a true Christian, then my works should resonate of my faith. If it’s real, then my works will show it; and while I may never realize gain from those works in this life, they are indeed being stored up as treasures in heaven for me. I often ask myself, “Have I invested more than I’ve withdrawn?” and I keep coming to the same answer, “I can never out-give God.” Through His grace, I have been set free and been granted eternal life in His presence. There is NOTHING I could ever do that can justify that free gift. I can only accept it. Like you my friend, I pray many more will while there’s still a chance. Tying the SRA / Spiritual IRA together with the anticipation Advent brings, I join you in looking forward to the day that I can “cash out” my SRA by laying all those saved treasures at my Savior’s feet.
Thank you for this humbling, humorous, and eye-opening foray into the difference we Christians should be demonstrating during this Advent Season. I’ll work on doing just that sir. God’s blessings, and I sincerely appreciate your encouraging words today.
Sorry to be slow (again) getting to responding to your gracious and uplifting comments. And you aren’t the only one who had a good time and lots of unexpected laughs today. That thing about the marshmallows and snowman poop was hilarious. I had never heard that, but I’m going to use it. I can hardly wait to unveil that with the grandchildren in a few weeks.
I also loved the SRA idea. It’s inexpressibly glorious to know that God loved us flawed, selfish, unreliable, and rebellious sinners enough to sacrifice everything to bring us into His family, and discovering that there’s even more leaves us stunned and speechless. The fact that He promises to store up rewards for our efforts even though He’s the One who provides everything and produces the fruit is hard to get my head around. But I join you in looking forward to the day when every benefit He died to ensure for us is poured out without restraint. Then we get the joyous experience of laying it all back at His feet where it belongs.
Meanwhile, I want to do a better job of downloading some of the joy that will characterize that day and to me more consistent in expressing it to those around me here and now. One of my favorite Bible teachers quoted a Messianic Jewish Rabbi recently who said, “Let laughter be your protest.” I’m more prone to protest with grumbling and complaining, but since that never gets me anything but another Rolaid, I think applying some defiant joy might work better. So thanks again for the glimpse of your childhood. I’ll never again see marshmallows in quite the same way, and if laughter is indeed a protest, I had a good time pushing back against all the world’s garbage for a while. In any case, my treasured friend, thank you once again for the spiritual nourishment and the encouragement.