Friday, December 4, 2020

Mark's thoughts: Advent - What if there is no Christmas this year?


So how are your Christmas preparations coming along? Do you have your tree up and decorated?  Do you have your Christmas lights hung, beautifully illuminating the night?  Is your house or apartment bedecked with all of the various Christian items that you have collected over the years, or have been passed down in your family?  Do you have your Christmas shopping done?


We exert so much effort during the month of December (and truth be told, some of us even start before Thanksgiving!) in order to get ready for Christmas.  Yet what if it turns out that all of this work was completely and utterly pointless? What if it turns out that there is no Christmas this year?


The focus during December is on Christmas.  But in the Church, until the evening of December 24, December is not about Christmas.  Instead, it is the season of Advent.  The name Advent is derived from the Latin world adventus which means “arrival” or coming. Advent prepares us to celebrate the arrival of our Savior Jesus Christ as he was not only conceived by the Holy Spirit, but also born of the virgin Mary.  It prepares us to celebrate the incarnation as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).


Advent prompts us to think about why God sent forth his Son into the world in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4).  The one year lectionary establishes this in a beautiful way as the Gospel lesson for the First Sunday in Advent (Matthew 21:1-9) describes Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday at the beginning of Holy Week.  The first thing we hear about is Jesus entering the city in order to die on the cross.  We are reminded that Jesus’ arrival was caused by our sin, and God’s gracious and merciful plan to give us forgiveness.  The world treats December as a time of merriment, but we cannot observe Advent without confronting the sin that is present in our lives.  We cannot avoid the reason that the Son of God entered into this world – our sin. Advent will always be a time that calls us to repentance.


Jesus Christ died on the cross as the ransom for our sin (Matthew 20:28). Our Lord won forgiveness for us.  Yet from the start, God said that sin would bring death (Genesis 2:16-17). It did (Genesis 3:19; 5:5) and the apostle Paul tells us that it has ever since (Romans 6:23).  God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day.  Jesus passed through death in order to defeat it.  God raised Jesus as the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).  After winning forgiveness and defeating death in a resurrected body that can never die again (Romans 6:9), our Lord then ascended into heaven as He was exalted by God to His right hand (Acts 2:33-35; 1 Peter 3:21-22). 


However, at His ascension the angels announced, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).  Jesus himself had spoken of this future return: “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).  Advent leads us to the recognition that we cannot think about our Lord’s first coming, without also thinking about his second coming.  Advent is the season that reminds us that there may be no Christmas this year.  In fact, it leads us to pray that there won’t be one.  It prompts us to pray: Come Lord Jesus!

So during Advent we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We prepare to celebrate the miracle of the incarnation.  We do so knowing why the Son of God entered into our world, and what he did for us through his death and resurrection.  We do so knowing that the risen, ascended and exalted Lord will return on the Last Day. If Jesus Christ is the focus of our preparations in this way, then even if our Lord returns and there is no Christmas, everything we will have done during December will have been truly beneficial preparation.


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