In one sense we have emerged from the season of Advent. In another sense, believers in Jesus live in a perpetual season of Advent.
In our practices as a church, we observe “Advent” in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent is a time of anticipation of and preparation for the birth of Jesus, the Savior of the world. Officially, the four Sundays of Advent in 2017 began on December 3. We, however, started up our Advent celebration early: November 26. In our worship services on those five Sundays, we read Scripture passages about Christ’s birth and sang Christmas songs.
Interestingly, I learned this week that the practice of “Advent” historically has included both the anticipation of Christ’s First Coming—His birth in Bethlehem—as well as the anticipation of His Second Coming.
In God’s providence, and, clearly, not as a result of any intentional planning on my part, the Lord included both aspects of Advent in our December and January sermon series; moving us from the one to the other! The last sermon in our “The Mystery of Christmas” series from the New Testament book of Philippians was about the return of our risen Savior: “Lord Jesus Will Return in Power”! And now, in January, we resume our sermon series from 1 Thessalonians entitled, “Living in the Light of Christ’s Return”!
I love it when God does things like that! …when He orchestrates our efforts to bring about something more than we had expected or planned.
I hope the Christmas season was a joyful reminder for you that God has indeed sent His Son to save you from your sin. I hope that all the decorations, gift-giving and gift-receiving, special songs of the season, and special gatherings were triggers God used to prompt reflection upon the mysterious and miraculous birth of His Son, and what God brought about through the first coming of His Son. I hope your Christmas was a blessed time for you.
As we now step into the new year, let’s carry forward that Advent sense of anticipation and preparation. The anticipation now is not for Christmas morning to get here with the opening of presents and the enjoying of a wonderful meal. Rather, it is a conscious waiting for the Lord Jesus to come again.
It is hard to wait. It is hard to wait for Christ to return. Suffering and difficulty, prayers for which we are awaiting the divine “Yes,” the snail-like slowness of personal growth in Jesus and the frustration of repeated failure. It is hard to wait for the blessedness and glory Jesus will bring for His people when He comes again. It is hard to wait for the deliverance from evil the Lord Jesus will bring to this world. And yet throughout history, waiting is the posture of the faithful. May we be God’s faithful people, steadfastly “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13, ESV).
And the preparation part of this Advent? Perhaps we could frame our “New Year’s Resolutions” as decisions we make with the goal of better preparing us for Christ’s return. May I suggest one? Decide to faithfully read the Bible in 2018. Now, I did not say read the Bible through in 2018, although that would be an excellent resolution. By “faithfully read the Bible in 2018”, this is what I mean: to decide to make an attainable goal for Bible reading this year which will engage you in a regular intake of God’s Word.
A plan to reach this goal can take many forms: following the Bible reading program which we provide for the church family, downloading an app which will send you Bible readings, increasing your reading schedule from two days per week to four days, using Our Daily Bread and deciding, when you have only enough time to read either the devotional comments or the passage from which they come, to read the passage. Look at how you are currently reading the Bible. Is it lacking? Make a decision to strengthen your practice so that it becomes a regular reading of God’s Word. Devotional tools are helpful; our greater need is a direct intake of the Bible.
Remember the words of Jesus in John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Sanctification, our progress in holiness, is God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 4:1). According to Jesus, God uses His Word to bring about that sanctification. Deciding to read the Bible, then, is a very good step of preparing ourselves for Jesus’s return.
As we live in anticipation of and preparation for Christ’s return, we can say with the Apostle John, “Even so, come!” (Revelation 22:20, NKJV)