Are you celebrating advent this year at your church or home? Our church lights candles with readings on the four Sundays of advent, and this year our celebration is making a more profound impression on me; the longer I live through the “holiday season,” the more I appreciate the liturgy of advent and its focus on Jesus. Who doesn’t need and appreciate medications on his hope, love, joy, and peace? Christians dependent upon Christ for these eternal blessings enjoy the break from materialism to focus on Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a particular view for us to consider: “‘The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” (1) We say, with Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) “The church, during advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming in celebration while at the same time looking forward in eager anticipation to the coming of Christ’s kingdom when he returns for his people…Scripture readings move from passages about Christ’s return in judgment to Old Testament passages about the expectation of the coming Messiah to New Testament passages about the announcements of Christ’s arrival.” (1b) We celebrate the advent season to remember God’s gift of Christ, our eternal hope, love, joy, and peace in him to some extent now and fully when he returns.
The Blessing of True Hope
Not all churches or denominations follow the same order for the readings during advent; I will use the order of my church. On November 27, we celebrated our hope in Christ, proved through his first incarnation, as we wait for his second coming. “Christ…who may be called the ‘light’, because he is the author and giver of all light, even of nature, grace, and glory; and a ‘great one, because he is the sun, the greatest light, the sun of righteousness, the light of the world, both of Jews and Gentiles; he is the true light, in distinction from all typical ones, and in opposition to all false ones.” (2) “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone…For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:2-7) “A gift of divine grace to sinners…[Christ] is the invincible figure striding across the world stage, taking gracious command…A ‘counselor’ is one who is able to make wise plans. He is a ruler whose wisdom is beyond merely human capabilities…Mighty God and…Everlasting Father. Jesus is viewed as our…benevolent protector..and Prince of Peace.” (3) We celebrate the blessing of hope that Christ alone offers for our existence here and the eternal security that will vindicate our hope in him upon his return.
The Blessing of Pure Love
Last Sunday, love was our focus, and I can’t think of a better passage to remind us of God’s precious love than John 3:16-17. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” One of the blessings of being alive during Christmas is our opportunity to worship Christ and celebrate his incarnation over two thousand years ago. “Here is the most famous summary of the gospel in the entire Bible…God’s love for ‘the world’ made it possible for whoever’ believes in Christ, not Jews alone, to have eternal life. God’s love for the world was not mere sentiment but led to a specific action: he gave his only Son, which John elsewhere explains as sending him to earth as a man to suffer and die and thereby to bear the penalty for sins…The purpose of giving his Son was to make God’s great gift of eternal life available to anyone–to whoever believes in him, that is, whoever personally trusts in him.” (4) As we consider our Father’s gift of Christ to us over the advent season, our enjoyment of his love rightly leads us to worship him more fully and lovingly through the fruit of his love in us.
The Blessing of Spiritual Joy
God’s people were exiled for their adulterous affections for false gods, having turned their backs on the one true God who ransomed their ancestors from Egyptian enslavement. They lived in foreign countries with strange languages and customs for seventy years. Many eventually adjusted to their new nations and stayed there. But a remnant was called back to the Promised Land of their forefathers to worship God with transformed hearts. Isaiah prophesied this truth to them in exile. “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:10; 51:11) As a former Jew transformed by Christ, I am particularity aware that our world has turned its back on God and there is little to encourage our faith. But, one day, like my Jewish remnant, we will have uninterrupted, complete joy with our brothers and sisters in a life of glory with our Lord. As we look forward to that day when he will return with a new heaven and earth, we have the Holy Spirit’s joy within us. We hear “the joyful sound of the Gospel itself…in immediate happiness with Christ; and in the resurrection shall return from their dusty beds, and shall appear before God in Zion above; and ‘with songs’ to Father, Son, and Spirit, for what each have done for them, in election, redemption, and conversion; and for persevering grace, and for being safely brought over Jordan’s river, and from the grave…it will be ‘everlasting joy’ indeed.” (5) Next week, we will celebrate the gift of gospel joy that we have only because of Christ and know that one day there will be nothing but joy in every aspect of life.
The Blessing of Global Peace
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9) “The wild and tame creatures shall agree together…figuratively of men, comparable to wild creatures, who through the power of divine grace, accompanying the word preached, shall become tame, mild, meek, and humble; such who have been as ravenous wolves, have worried Christ’s sheep, made havoc of them, breathing out slaughter and threatenings against them, as did Saul, through converting grace, become as gentle and harmless as lambs, and take up their residence in Christ’s fold, and dwell with, yea, some of them even feed, Christ’s lambs and sheep, as the above mentioned person: and a little child shall lead them; become through the grace of God so tractable, that they shall be led, guided, and governed by the ministers of the Gospel, Christ’s babes and sucklings, to whom he reveals the great things of his Gospel, and out of whose mouths he ordains praise… ‘for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’: full of the Gospel, the means of conveying the knowledge of Christ, and of God in Christ, of his person and office, of his grace and righteousness, of peace, pardon, life, and salvation by him…the full accomplishment of it is yet to come…and the earth shall be lightened with his glory.” (6) We celebrate the advent season to remember God’s gift of Christ, our eternal, blessed hope, love, joy, and peace.
“While advent is certainly a time of celebration and anticipation of Christ’s birth, it is more than that. It is only in the shadow of advent that the miracle of Christmas can be fully understood and appreciated, and it is only in the light of Christmas that the Christian life makes any sense. It is between the fulfilled promise of Christ’s first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of his second coming that Karl Barth penned these words: ‘Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other…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.’…The Lord has come to earth and will arrive again. This is the essence of advent.” (7) Take heart! “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)
Related Scripture: Job 29:16; Psalm 2:6-9; Isaiah 22:21; 42:4; 49:6-7; Jeremiah 32:18-19; Micah 5:1-4; Habakkuk 2:14; Luke 1:32; Acts 5:31; 13:23-24; Ephesians 2:14-17; Philippians 2:7.
1. Christianity.com, What is Advent? https://www.christianity.com/wiki/holidays/what-is-advent.html
2. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, Isaiah 9:2-3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/isaiah-9.html.
3. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Isaiah 9:6, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
4. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, John 3:16-17.
5. Gill, Ibid, Isaiah 35:10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/isaiah-35.html.
6. Gill, Ibid, Isaiah 11:6-9, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/isaiah-11.html
7. Christianity.com, Ibid.
December 8, 2022