Yesterday the season of Advent began, and churches all over the world will be celebrating it over the next four weeks during the lead up to Christmas. Not all Protestant traditions celebrate Advent, and I certainly don’t remember it from my childhood. Yet millions of Christian will celebrate it again this year. Advent is different from the celebration of Christmas. In the seasonal calendar of the Church, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve and continues for the next twelve days, ending on January 6 (that’s where the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, comes from). The celebration of Advent originated in the 6th century and is the four-week period leading up to Christmas. The word comes from the Latin meaning “arrival” or “coming” and is a time of preparation.
Over the four week period of Advent, Christians dedicate themselves to both remember and anticipate. They remember by looking back to Christ’s first coming, they anticipate by looking forward to his second coming. By looking both back and forward we are reminded how we are caught between these two events. Looking back helps remind us that Jesus has come as a human being; that he was crucified, buried and on the third day was alive again. Death has been defeated and the victory won.
“Over the four week period of Advent, Christians dedicate themselves to both remember and anticipate.”
By looking forward we remind ourselves that full implications of the victory are yet to be seen and we still await its coming. Every day we still face the reality of death; in every community and individual the world is still plagued with sin; we are still to see peace and justice reign supreme; and hunger and disease are still with us. During Advent we anticipate the return of Jesus Christ the King and the time when all creation will be reconciled to God. Advent can be a very personal time. As individuals we can affirm how much we need a Saviour and celebrate that Jesus Christ came for me. It reminds us that he is present in our world today whether we are aware of it or not. It brings us to the place where we again choose to draw near to him with the sure hope of resurrection and a new world. My hope for each of one of us in this season of Advent is that in spite of the chaos, anxiety, hurts, and busyness that often fills our lives, we will take time to prepare. My prayer is that in your preparation during Advent, you will find an openness to receive again the love and joy of Christmas. This joy flows from the celebration of God entering the world through the coming of the Son of God as a human being.
There many things people find difficult about Jesus. One of them is believing his resurrection actually took place. In fact, the majority of Australians today consider such a view unreasonable, unrealistic, irresponsible and irrelevant. Yet sadly, as never before, many in our community, families, schools, and businesses need to know the reality and power of the resurrection more than ever. Despite our affluence, many lives are full of despair, disillusionment and brokenness, while some endure a living death. They need resurrection, not just at the end of their lives, but tomorrow and next week. They need something to help them see past their misery and depression in hope and anticipation. Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853) one of the principle founders of the Harvard Law School, and possibly one of the greatest legal minds who ever lived, believed the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a hoax and set out to disprove it. He was certain that a careful examination of the internal witness of the Gospels based upon his famous Treatise on the Law of Evidence (still in print today) would dispel all the myths at the heart of Christianity. However, after a thorough examination of the evidence he came to the exact opposite conclusion. “It was impossible,” he wrote, “that the apostles could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus Christ actually risen from the dead…” Wouldn’t it be exciting if those we know facing hard times and are sceptical about the resurrection, came to the same realisation as Greenleaf and could see the resurrection for what it is? Life would take on new meaning and depth for them.
Wouldn’t it be exciting if those facing hard times could see the resurrection for what it is?
Believing in the resurrection brings hope and helps to bring appreciation that there is more to life than we face now. In the midst of our trials and struggles, we need to be reminded that God loves resurrection and is willing to bring it to our lives today. However, there is a catch. The paradox to resurrection life is that you cannot have it without dying first. God only gives resurrection life to those who need it. So many of us want such life but without the dying part. Yet, surprising as it may seem, when we go through difficult times we are closer to experiencing resurrection life than before. It is as if the experience of suffering and despair herald the coming of resurrection. What difficult things are you currently facing that God wants to see changed? He is longing for you to reach out and trust him for the impossible, bringing new life out of dead things. Are you ready to trust him? Stephen L Baxter
How has this last week been for you? Often the week before Christmas is chaotic and frenetic as we fuss over gifts, cards, celebrations, travelling and menus. For some this can be almost overwhelming and for others, well, it hasn’t finished just yet – we’ve still got a few more days of catching up with family, eating, travelling and hopefully sleeping.
Many years ago with great wit and originality C.S. Lewis wrote a short mock historical account of Christmas called X-Mas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus. His story describes the customs of a small island called “Niatirb” (which is “Britain” spelt backwards) where the inhabitants suffer from their efforts to conform to a winter celebration they call X-Mas. The custom requires they buy cards and gifts for each other, even those they don’t know; and this leaves them totally exhausted. There is more to the story (and you can click here if you want to read it). Sometimes I think we can all feel a bit like that at this time of year. In reality, Christmas is a wonderful time where we celebrate the hope of the coming of the Saviour. Yet, in the midst of the celebrations there is a painful reminder that all is not right in the world. This year is no exception with the likelihood that the global economy will only get worse, that the planet is warming, that another boatload of refugees has sunk, and that too many children still do not have access to adequate food, shelter and clean water. Some may think it is a bit sombre and morbid to bring up such topics at Christmas, but the reality is that Christmas doesn’t make sense if the world is perfect and everyone is happy. Christmas is the celebration of God stepping into the chaos and the mess of our world. Its central message is that God has done something about the problems by entering into our broken, rebellious world as a baby with the sole aim of rescuing and redeeming it. That’s why people come to celebrate at churches all over the world on Christmas Day. As we gather we remind ourselves again of the hope we have in Jesus Christ in spite of our personal circumstances, and the circumstances of the world. Christmas is not sentimental wishful thinking, but confidence that God has not given up on us. In Matthew’s gospel it says, “They shall call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God with us’” (1:23). Christmas is a reminder that God desires to be among us; the God who made the universe wants to share in our human lives. But he doesn’t save us or the world by taking us out of it or by taking our pain away, but by joining us in his world. He doesn’t act from a distance or use a proxy, but takes upon humanity’s pain, sorrow and rebellion himself. On Christmas Day we not only celebrate an event that took place in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, but the reality that is with us here today – in our time of celebration, in our times with our families, over our meal tables and in the smallest details of our lives. Not only was God with them then in first century Palestine, his presence is a reality for us to day. In a very real sense the incarnation has never ceased and never will. God’s choice to take on human nature, human flesh and blood, mind and feeling, is as real and immediate to us today as it was in Bethlehem. As we celebrate Christmas in 2011, let us do so with hope in our hearts that God is still at work in the world and there is more rescuing to be done, and even if our lives are chaotic and messy, broken and unresolved, God is with us in the midst of it all. Stephen L Baxter