Each year my mom asks for a Christmas list with something I want, something I need, something to wear and something to read. This year, for something to wear, I asked for a pair of slip on waterproof boots for walking the dog on rainy or snowy mornings. Every time I tie my sneakers in the morning, I look forward to opening those boots on Christmas day. Every time I step in a puddle and water soaks through my socks I mentally countdown the days to December 25. Whether we are young, old or somewhere in between the Christmas season is a time of waiting. For many, the coming of Christmas is an occasion for joy and excitement. For others, it might be a difficult time of loneliness or grief. No matter which way we feel about Christmas, as Christians we are looking forward to the arrival of a day and a gift far more wonderful than we can begin to imagine.
The celebration of Advent, from the Latin adventus"a coming, approach, arrival," has a long and rich history in the church. The four Sundays prior to Christmas are set aside to anticipate and prepare for the celebration of the incarnation and birth of Christ on Christmas day. Perhaps your church or family is doing something special for Advent. Observing Advent in worship services, with a calendar, wreath, or devotional are all ways to add practices and habits into our schedule that remind us of the truth that the Christian life is about waiting. Advent is a time we look back in history to the gift of Christ, yet even as we do so we look forward to the day he will come again.
Looking Back at the Gift
Why do we give gifts on Christmas? There are many reasons, but I think the best reason is to commemorate and respond to the gift God gave us in a manger in Bethlehem just over 2000 years ago. Christmas is about celebrating the arrival of the long-awaited gift of Jesus, the Savior God had first promised to Adam and Eve long ago. During Advent, we celebrate the fact that God became man and lived amongst us. The Father sent his beloved Son to live the life of perfect obedience we must but cannot, and to die the death we deserve. Christmas can very easily become all about the gifts we give and receive. Instead, we should set our hearts on the gift of Christ in whom we are blessed "with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3). It is because God has so richly blessed undeserving sinners like us that we seek to bless others, not only with Christmas gifts but with acts of love and service each and every day of the year.
Looking Forward to the Day
Advent is also a time to focus our thoughts on the day Jesus will come again. As we anticipate Christmas we are reminded that we await a much greater day. This is wonderful news! For believers, the coming of Christ will be the most incredible day, a day far more amazing than the best Christmas we have experienced on earth. For those who wait for Christmas with fear or anxiety at the difficult and painful experiences, memories, or thoughts that it stirs up; Advent is a time to find hope that Christ is coming again to make us whole, to set things right, and to wipe every tear from our eyes. We don't know when this day will come, but celebrating Advent helps us prepare for it. The Apostle Peter said,
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Peter 3:10-14)
When Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead all the Christmas presents in the world will be destroyed. There is no material possession that will be left, all that will survive with us is what we have done. The commercialization of Christmas can easily take our eyes off of the truth that Advent reminds us of: this world and all its treasures are not eternal. Our lives should be about obeying and serving God as we await the advent of the new heavens and the new earth where we will dwell with Christ forever.
This Advent season, take time to look back to the gift of Christ and give thanks. Look forward to the day that Christ will come again. And, in the meantime, serve the Lord diligently in holiness and righteousness.