If you haven’t heard it enough already, then let me say it again: 2020 has been a crazy, unprecedented year. And it’s still not over. Who knows what will happen in the final month? Hopefully, the worst is behind us.
It’s precisely because of this year’s unpredictability, that it seemed like the perfect time to return to something predictable. This Christmas season, our church is observing a tradition that is historic, stabilizing, and familiar. It’s known as Advent.
2020 has caused many people to feel isolated, separated, worried, scared, lonely, and fearful. The timeless themes of Advent seem tailor-made for a year like this. If we ever needed hope, love, joy, and peace it’s in 2020. Who would have ever suspected that God might be using COVID to prepare us for Christmas?
If you’ve never celebrated Advent in church or just need a reminder, here’s an overview as to what this tradition is all about and an intro to today’s theme.
The word advent, coming from the Latin adventus, simply means “coming” or “arrival.” It speaks of someone or something showing up. But it is more than just an ordinary person walking into an ordinary place on an ordinary day. It captures the idea of the arrival of something momentous, something significant, and something highly anticipated.
While growing up in Tennessee and Alabama, I remember my parents taking me to a few local Christmas parades. With wide eyes and a gaping mouth, every kid my age stood on the concrete sidewalks and watched with seasonal wonder and awe. Fancy decorated cars drove by. High school bands played Christmas songs. Homemade floats crept along covered in fake snow and twinkling lights. It was thrilling for everyone, but especially if you were under the age of ten. But as much as we enjoyed the candy, the waving, and the music, every kid was looking for something else. We all knew what was at the end of the parade. And that what was a who: Santa Claus – the holly, jolly embodiment of all things Christmas. As each new attraction passed by, I remember leaning into the street, craning my neck, and standing on my tippy toes just to see if his red shiny sleigh was turning onto the block. I almost couldn’t wait for that moment each year.
That kind of excitement and watchfulness is what advent is all about. Waiting. Looking. Longing. Expecting. And pleading for the time to arrive. Much like a small-town parade, the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas seem to steadily but slowly creep along. A little at a time. With every passing Sunday, though, we know that we are getting closer and closer to that blessed and special occasion of celebrating the events recorded in Luke 2.
And while advent is about the past; it’s not just about the past.
When we talk about the arrival of Jesus, there’s not just one to consider. There are two. Yes, we should think of Jesus coming to Bethlehem as a baby wrapped in cloths. But as we do that, we should also think of Him coming again over all the earth as the King of Kings wrapped in majesty and glory! He has come once and, therefore, He will come again! As one author said, “In advent, we rejoice in the first coming of Christ, we long for the second coming of Christ, and we live in the presence of Christ today.” Advent is a simple, tangible, seasonal reminder to truly look back to the future.
One theologian put it this way, “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. If anywhere at all, then, it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise.”
There are five candles in the advent wreath. In various churches and traditions, they each represent something different. This year, we are celebrating them in this order: hope, love, joy, and peace.
After the rebellion and fall of mankind in the garden, God said something astounding. And He said it in a way that only God could. He spoke a word of judgment against the serpent which was also a word of promise to Adam and Eve and to all humanity. Genesis 3:15 says, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.”
These words were the tiny spark that lit the fire of hope which began to glow in the hearts of mankind. It was not just the hope of deliverance, but the hope of a Deliverer. A Savior. A Rescuer. A Messiah.
Throughout the rest Israel’s history recorded in the Old Testament, we see that God continued to promise this hope. The tabernacle symbolized this hope. The kings foreshadowed this hope. The priests embodied this hope. The prophets preached this hope. The poets described this hope. The remnant believed this hope. And it’s this hope that is still our hope, the hope of Christ!
COVID has filled our world with sadness, depression, tears, and despair. But Christmas fills our world with just the opposite: hope! Hope in our trials. Hope in our sickness. Hope in our heartaches. In fact, we have been singing a new hymn as a church that says it so well: “What is our hope in life and death? Christ alone! Christ alone!”
For Christians, hope is not just wishful thinking. We do not hope in Christ like some are hoping for a PlayStation 5 this year. Rather, as Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope (in Christ) as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Our confidence is sure and solid because Jesus Christ, and all His promises, are sure and solid. Just as sure as He came as a baby, died as a substitute, and ascended as Lord – so too, we have hope that He will come as King and make all things new.
So, as we light this week’s candle amid the pain and sorrow of 2020, let’s focus on promise, the hope, and the Savior as we too pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”