Tomorrow, November 28, marks the beginning of Advent, traditionally the beginning of the church calendar year. The word advent comes from the Latin adventus meaning coming. Advent focuses our worship for the four weeks which precede Christmas on the significance of Christ’s incarnation. Christians began to organize worship around various seasons of the year as early as the second century. In more liturgical churches the entire calendar often revolves around these seasons of the year.
At OGC we celebrate a tradition in Advent worship involving the lighting of an Advent wreath. Each Sunday before Advent, as well as on Christmas Eve, different individuals/families lead us in the lighting ceremony with appropriate readings from Scripture. An Advent wreath communicates many powerful things. Its circular form stands for the eternity of God. The burning candles represent Christ, the light of the world (John 8:12). The evergreens in the wreath speak to eternal life. The use of colored candles originated in Eastern Germany prior to the Reformation. Traditionally, the three purple candles symbolize the penitence due from sinners at the prospect of Christ’s coming. The single pink or rose candle calls for joy at the idea of the Son of God incarnate. And the white candle in the center, of course, points to Jesus Christ in all His purity and power.
May I encourage you this year, as in previous years, to form an intentional strategy for making the most of this coming Advent season? Without a plan we can easily fall prey to a worldly tis-the-season-to-be-frantic kind of December that leaves us at best exhausted and at worst resentful.
Here are some suggestions to that end:
1. Refuse to abandon time for reflection, worship, and contemplative disciplines. Mary, the mother of our Lord, excelled as one who kept all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). Determine to hold a tenacious line against the tyranny of the urgent and give yourself to the priority of seeing the unseen and eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).
2. Beware temptations to covetousness and greed which surround the cultural trappings of Christmas. Jesus warns in Luke 12:15 Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses. Madison Avenue bombards us daily with just the opposite message. Ask God to help you not let the world squeeze you into such a treacherous mold (Rom. 12:2).
3. Zealously call to mind the words of Jesus as quoted by Paul in Acts 20:35 – It is more blessed to give than to receive. Consider creative ways to practice giving that go beyond the material. Bless someone with the gift of words of encouragement, time spent in fellowship, ministering to a need. Alter your Christmas budget this year in terms of what you normally spend on yourself, family, and friends and give toward a worthy global missionary enterprise or some local charitable cause. Plan on participating in the free Christmas wrapping outreach at Walmart on Dec. 17 from 10 AM to 4 PM.
4. Make corporate worship a non-negotiable priority, even if you travel. David spoke of the sanctuary as the place where He saw God uniquely in His power and glory (Psalm 63:2). Ask the Lord to reveal hidden sins in you that grieve His Spirit and hinder your fellowship. Every time you see a purple Advent candle pray for a spirit of insight into the depths of your depravity and give yourself to confession and repentance. But don’t stop there! Ask God to fill you with a spirit of rejoicing and celebration. Every time you see a rose candle offer up praise and thanksgiving for some treasured aspect of Christ in His incarnation and all He has won for you in regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, glorification, etc.
5. Determine to bring Advent worship into the fabric of your home. Heads of households – let us function as believer priests on behalf of our families and lead in Advent devotions that serve to focus our spouses and our children upon things that truly matter this Christmas. Let us watch less in the way of endless Christmas specials devoted to the inane and trivial and read more of the Word that extols the Christ of God and listen more to the music that declares His praises and fellowship more with the people that embrace His Lordship and witness more to the lost who languish without His hope.
6. Say No more and Yes less so that the obligations of the season do not run away with you. Stay in control of your calendar. Prioritize ruthlessly as best you understand given God’s priorities for you.
7. Arm yourself with Paul’s promise in Phil. 4:13 that in Christ you can do all things – including making the most of Advent. This may prove especially true for you if you have experienced some significant loss this year or if you are battling some form of depression for whatever reason. Navigating the demands of the holiday season cannot be accomplished in one’s own strength. It takes the power and all-sufficient grace of Christ (2 Cor. 12:9).
May He grant us ever-increasing amounts of grace to sing these words of the hymn writer and mean it:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.