The Best News Ever

Today is the first Sunday of the Advent season leading up to the celebration of Christmas. The following is a brief description of Advent in an article titled, Advent Wreath & Candles: Understanding the Meaning, History & Tradition,” by Laurie Richie, author of The Advent Storybook and a registered nurse:

Advent is a time of expectation and hope. “Advent” means “arrival” or “coming,” and it prompts us to pause each day in December and remember why Jesus came at Christmas. Traditions vary by country, but common ways of commemorating Jesus’ birth are through Advent calendars, wreaths, and candles. Ideally, any Advent tradition should involve families in a fun activity each day of December, helping them remember why we celebrate Christmas….

Advent candles shine brightly in the midst of darkness, reminding us that Jesus came as Light into our dark world. The candles are often set in a circular Advent wreath. In Scandinavia, Lutheran churches light a candle each day of December; by Christmas, they have twenty-four candles burning. Another Advent candle option is a single candle with twenty-four marks on the side–the candle is lit each day and allowed to melt down to the next day’s mark.

The most common Advent candle tradition, however, involves four candles. A new candle is lit on each of the four Sundays before Christmas. Each candle represents something different, although traditions vary. Often, the first, second, and fourth candles are purple; the third candle is rose-colored. Sometimes all the candles are red; in other traditions, all four candles are blue or white. Occasionally, a fifth white candle is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

  • The first candle symbolizes hope and is called the “Prophet’s Candle.” The prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, waited in hope for the Messiah’s arrival.
  • The second candle represents faith and is called “Bethlehem’s Candle.” Micah had foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, which is also the birthplace of King David.
  • The third candle symbolizes joy and is called the “Shepherd’s Candle.” To the shepherd’s great joy, the angels announced that Jesus came for humble, unimportant people like them, too. In liturgy, the color rose signifies joy.
  • The fourth candle represents peace and is called the “Angel’s Candle.” The angels announced that Jesus came to bring peace–He came to bring people close to God and to each other again.
  • The (optional) fifth candle represents light and purity and is called “Christ’s candle.” It is placed in the middle and is lit on Christmas Day. (Quote source here.)

In another article published in 2017 titled, First Sunday of Advent: He is Coming!” by Michael Simone, S.J., Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, he describes this first Sunday of Advent as follows:

Jesus is on a rescue mission. That is the major theme of Mark’s entire Gospel, which we will be reading on most Sundays in the new liturgical year that begins on this First Sunday of Advent. The end of the age was near, and God sent the Son to save Israel from the coming calamity. Mark has none of Matthew’s ruminative, “what-does-it-all-mean” discourses. Instead, Mark packs his narrative with action. Blind beggars, sick children, grieving parents and demon-haunted madmen take center stage. As Jesus delivered each one, he progressively revealed himself to be the savior of anyone who believed in his power.

This message suited Mark’s times. He wrote around the year A.D. 70, in a period of chaos in the Roman world. Assassins had killed the emperor Nero two years before. Three feckless emperors followed in quick succession. Subject peoples everywhere rose up against Rome. Each insurrection failed. In Judea, the Roman general Vespasian fought the Jews ferociously before hurrying back to Rome to be acclaimed emperor. He left his son, Titus, to clean up the last of the resistance. On Aug. 30, A.D. 70, Titus broke through the walls of Jerusalem, sacked the city and destroyed the temple, which has never been rebuilt. (The arch of Titus in Rome commemorates this destruction. The Jewish people felt the loss so keenly that until the late 20th century, rabbinic law forbade any Jew from walking through the arch under penalty of permanent excommunication.)

Christians living in these times felt an acute need for rescue. They knew Jesus had come and they believed God was at work to save them, but they did not know what form their rescue would take. To this community, Mark relays Jesus’ message: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Throughout his Gospel, Mark shows how hard it was for people to recognize Jesus’ true nature, even when they witnessed the great deeds he performed. Jesus ordered his disciples to remain vigilant for his second coming, lest they too miss his presence. Forty-odd years later, Mark passed this command on to his community, who must have felt, as the world they knew crumbled around them, that they were living in the time Christ foretold.

The church teaches that, although Mark’s historical expectations may have proved incorrect, the message he provides for our salvation is forever true. In today’s Gospel passage, that message is clear: “Watch! May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping!” We wait, like Mark’s community, for the coming of the Son of Man. We know to be alert for Christ at the end of our natural lives. As we begin another Advent, it is also important to remember that Christ appears suddenly in our life every day. Like the characters of Mark’s Gospel, we can easily miss his arrival. If Mark were writing today, he would perhaps use other symbols for that spirit of distraction. “Be watchful! Be alert! May he not find you obsessing over trivia, lusting after images on the internet, preoccupied with your phone or indulging in hate, fear or greed.” May we use these weeks before Christmas to put away our distractions and put our faith in Christ anew. (Quote source here.)

“Jesus is on a rescue mission.” And He is, of course! We have so many distractions in our society today that it is too easy to miss what Jesus is doing. We are way too easily distracted by (everything), or obsessed over (trivia), or lusting after (what we want but don’t have), or preoccupied with (smartphones, money, and lots of other things), and indulging in things like hate, fear or greed, and often all at the same time. And just where is Jesus going to fit in with all of that? In fact, does He fit in at all?

Creighton University’s Online Ministry has provided a few guidelines for us to consider during this first week of Advent:

As we begin Advent we light one candle in the midst of all the darkness in our lives and in the world.  It symbolizes our longing, our desire, our hope.  Three “advents” or “comings” shape our desire.  We want to be renewed in a sense that Jesus came to save us from our sin and death. We want to experience his coming to us now, in our everyday lives, to help us live our lives with meaning and purpose. And we want to prepare for his coming to meet us at the end of our lives on this earth.

So, we begin with our longing, our desire and our hope.

When we wake up, each day this week, we could light that candle, just by taking a few moments to focus. We could pause for a minute at the side of our bed, or while putting on our slippers or our robe, and light an inner candle.  Who among us doesn’t have time to pause for a moment?  We could each find our own way to pray something like this:

“Lord, the light I choose to let into my life today is based on my trust in you.  It is a weak flame, but I so much desire that it dispel a bit more darkness today.  Today, I just want to taste the longing I have for you as I go to the meeting this morning, carry out the responsibilities of my work, face the frustration of some difficult relationships.  Let this candle be my reminder today of my hope in your coming.”

Each morning this week, that momentary prayer might get more specific, as it prepares us for the day we will face.  And as we head to work, walk to a meeting, rush through lunch, take care of errands, meet with people, pick up the phone to return some calls, answer e-mail, return home to prepare a meal, listen to the ups and downs of our loved ones’ day, we can take brief moments to relate our desire for the three comings of the Lord to our life.

If our family has an Advent wreath, or even if it doesn’t, we could pray together before our evening meal.  As we light the first candle on the wreath, or as we simply pause to pray together our normal grace.  Then, as we begin to eat, we can invite each other, including the children, to say something about what it means today to light this first candle. 

Perhaps we could ask a different question each night, or ask about examples from the day.  How am I getting in touch with the longing within me?  How did I prepare today?  What does it mean to prepare to celebrate his coming 2,000 years ago?  How can we prepare to experience his coming into our lives this year?  What does it mean for us now, with our world involved in so much conflict? How are we being invited to trust more deeply?  How much more do we long for his coming to us, in the midst of the darkness in our world?  In what ways can we renew our lives so we might be prepared to greet him when he comes again?  Our evening meal could be transformed this week, if we could shape some kind of conversation together that lights a candle of anticipation in our lives.  Don’t worry if everyone isn’t “good at” this kind of conversation at first.  We can model it, based on our momentary pauses throughout each day, in which we are discovering deeper and deeper desires, in the midst of our everyday lives.

And every night this week, we can pause briefly, perhaps as we sit for a minute at the edge of the bed.  We can be aware of how that one, small candle’s worth of desire brought light into this day.  And we can give thanks.  Going to bed each night this week with some gratitude is part of the preparation for growing anticipation and desire.

Come, Lord Jesus!  Come and visit your people. We await your coming.  Come, O Lord. (Quote source here.)

As we celebrate this Advent season, let us remember what Jesus said in John 8:12“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me . . .

Will never walk in darkness . . .

But will have . . .

The light of life . . . .

YouTube Video: “Best News Ever” by MercyMe:

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Gratitude and Wonder

The official start of Advent is tomorrow (Sunday), December 3, 2017, for this year. For those keeping an Advent calendar or taking part in daily Advent readings, it started yesterday, December 1, 2017, and will end on Christmas Day. Calenderpedia.com gives this brief description of Advent:

Advent is the name of the season in which Christians prepare for the celebration that commemorates the birth of Jesus ChristChristmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin phrase “Adventus Domini”, meaning “arrival of the Lord.”

The Advent season is of variable length, and the start date changes every year. It starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day (also known as Advent Sunday and First Sunday of Advent), which can fall between November 27 and December 3, and always ends on Christmas Eve.

Common customs observed in churches and at home during Advent are the decoration of the house with an Advent wreath adorned with candles and the keeping of an Advent calendar. (Quote source here.)

At the beginning of this week I wrote a blog post titled, Three Relationships of Peace,” which gives the background on Advent. I also mentioned that I purchased a small book of Advent readings titled, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” (2014) by John Pipera pastor, author, and founder and leader of desiringGod.org, and he is also the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. Yesterday I began reading the daily readings–each of which is two to three pages long. After I read today’s reading for December 2nd, I thought it would be a great way to open this season of Advent. Here is that reading:

Prepare Your Heart for Christ

“How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” ~John 5:44

God owns and controls all things. And there is nothing that he could give you for Christmas this year that would suit your needs and the longings better than the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem, restoration for past losses and liberation from future enemies, forgiveness and freedom, pardon and power, healing the past and sealing the future.

If there is a longing in your heart this Advent for something that the world has not been able to satisfy, might not this longing be God’s Christmas gift preparing you to see Christ as consolation and redemption and to receive him for who he really is?

How is the heart prepared to receive Christ for who he really is? It is very simple.

First, the heart must become disenchanted with the praise of men. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one and other and do not seek the glory that comes from God?” (John 5:44; 7:17-18).

Second, the heart must become disenchanted with the sufficiency of money and things to satisfy the soul. “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14).

Then, third, alongside this disenchantment with the praise of men and the power of money, there must come into the heart a longing for consolation and a redemption beyond what the world can give.

Fourth and finally, there must be a revelation from God the Father, opening the eyes of the heart so that it cries out, like a man who stumbles onto an incredible treasure, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God, the consolation of my past, the redemption of my future. Now I see you. Now I receive you–for who you really are.”

May God do this for you this Advent. May this be your gift, and your witness, and the testimony of many this Advent. (Quote source: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” (2014) for December 2nd, pp. 17-18).

So this Advent season let us keep our focus on the real reason we celebrate this season–on Jesus . . .

The One who is . . .

The One who was . . .

And the One who is to come . . . . (Rev. 1:8)

YouTube Video: “Ode to Joy to the World” (with Choir and Bell Ringers) – The Piano Guys:

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Three Relationships of Peace

At the end of this week we will begin celebrating the season of Advent. For folks interested in taking part in a daily reading or following an Advent calendar, it starts on Friday, December 1, 2017. The following information on Advent is taken from an article titled, What is Advent? by Justin Holcomb, an Episcopal priest serving as the Canon for Vocations in the Diocese of Central Florida, and he teaches theology and apologetics at Gordon-Conwell-Theological Seminary and Reformed Theological Seminary. He holds two masters degrees from Reformed Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. from Emory University (source here):

The season of Advent lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At that time, the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. (Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year.) 

Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, the church, during Advent, looks back upon Christ’s coming [at his birth] 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. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future….

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, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. 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.” The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent. (Quote source and the entire article with follow-up resources for Advent are available at this link.)

This year I purchased a small book of Advent readings titled, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” (2014) by John Piper, an American Calvinist Baptist pastor and author who is the founder and leader of desiringGod.org. He is also the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the conclusion to this book, he writes about the “Three Relationships of Peace” (pp. 88-92):

My great desire for you this Christmas is that you enjoy this peace [peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace with others]. We know that there are global aspects to this peace that lie in the future when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14). When, as Isaiah says, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7).

But Jesus has come to inaugurate that peace among God’s people. And there are three relationships in which he wants you to pursue this peace and enjoy this peace. Peace with God. Peace with your own soul. And peace with other people, as much as it lies with you.

And by peace, I mean not only the absence of conflict and animosity but also the presence of joyful tranquility, and as much richness of interpersonal communication as you are capable of.

So let’s look at each of these three peaceful relationships briefly and make sure you are enjoying as much as you can. The key to each of them is not to separate what the angels kept together: the glory of God and the peace you long for. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.”

Peace with God

The most basic need we have is peace with God. This is foundational to all our pursuits of peace. If we don’t go here first, all other experiences of peace will be superficial and temporary.

The key passage here is Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith [there’s the pivotal act of believing], we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Justified” means that God declares you to be just in his sight by imputing to you the righteousness of Jesus.

And he does that by faith alone: “Since we have been justified by faith” (Rom. 5:1). Not by works. Not by tradition. Not by baptism. Not by church membership. Not by piety. Not by parentage. But by faith alone. When we believe in Jesus as the Savior and the Lord and the supreme treasure of our lives, we are united to him and his righteousness is counted by God as ours. We are justified by faith.

And the result is peace with God. God’s anger at us because of our sin is put away. Our rebellion against him is overcome. God adopts us into his family. And from now on all his dealings with us are for our good. He will never be against us. He is our Father and our friend. We have peace. We don’t need to be afraid anymore. This is foundational to all other peace.

Peace with Ourselves

And because we have peace with God because of being justified by faith, we can begin to grow in the enjoyment of peace with ourselves–and here I include any sense of guilt or anxiety that tends to paralyze us or make us hopeless. Here again, believing the promises of God with a view to glorifying God in our lives is key.

Philippians 4:6-7 is one of the most precious passages in this regard: “Do not be anxious about anything [the opposite of anxiety is peace], but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God [in other words, roll your anxieties onto God]. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The picture here is that our hearts and our minds are under assault. Guilt, worries, threats, confusions, uncertainties–they all threaten our peace. And Paul says the God wants to “guard” our hearts and minds. He guards them with his peace. He guards them in a way that goes beyond what human understanding can fathom–“which surpasses all understanding.”

Don’t limit the peace of God by what your understanding can see. He gives us inexplicable peace, supra-rational peace. And he does it when we take our anxieties to him in prayer and trust him that he will carry them for us (1 Peter 5:7) and protect us.

When we do this, when we come to him–and remember we already have peace with him!–and trust him as our loving and almighty heavenly Father to help us, his peace comes to us and steadies us and protects us from the disabling effects of fear and anxiety and guilt. And then we are able to carry on, and our God gets the glory for what we do because we trusted him.

Do that this Christmas. Take your anxieties to God. Tell him about them. Ask him to help you. To protect you. To restore your peace. And then to use you to make peace.

Peace with Others

The third relationship in which God wants us to enjoy his peace is in our relationships with other people. This is the one we have least control over. So we need to say it carefully the way Paul does in Romans 12:18. He says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

For many of you, when you get together with family for Christmas, there will be some awkward and painful relationships. Some of the pain is very old. And some of it is new. In some relationships you know what you have to do, no matter how hard it is. And in come of them you are baffled and don’t know what the path of peace calls for.

In both cases the key is trusting the promises of God with heartfelt awareness of how he forgave you through Christ. I think the text that puts this together most powerfully for me again and again is Ephesians 4:31-32: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Continually cultivate a sense of amazement that in spite of all your sins, God has forgiven you through Christ. Be amazed that you have peace with God. It’s this sense of amazement–that I, a sinner, have peace with God–that makes the heart tender, kind, and forgiving. Extend this to others seventy times seven.

It may be thrown back in your face. It certainly was thrown back in Jesus’ face on the cross. That hurts, and it can make you bitter if you are not careful. Don’t let it. Keep being more amazed that your wrongs are forgiven than that you are wronged. Be amazed that you have peace with God. You have peace with your soul. Your guilt is taken away.

Keep trusting God. He knows what he is doing. Keep his glory–not your success or your effectiveness in peacemaking or your relationships–supreme in the treasure chest of your heart.

And then you will be like the angels: Glory to God in the highest is the first thing. Peace among his people is the second thing.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” This is why he came–on a day, to a city, as a Savior, Messiah, and Sovereign. That God would get glory and that you would know peace. May the God of peace give you peace and get his glory. (Quote course: The Dawning of Indestructible Joy,” pp. 88-92.)

Philippians 4:6-7 (mentioned above) is the key passage used in Max Lucado‘s book, Anxious for Nothing (2017). Max Lucado is a best-selling Christian author and writer and pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. On the subject of anxiety that we all know so well in our own lives, he states the following on the inside front cover of his book:

It’s a low-grade fear. An edginess, a dread. It’s a wind that won’t stop howling. It’s not so much a storm as it is the certainty that one is coming. Always . . . coming.

So, you don’t sleep well.
You don’t laugh often.
You don’t enjoy the sun.
You don’t whistle as you walk.

The anxiety has its reasons. Airplanes fall out of the sky. Bull markets go bear. Terrorists terrorize. Good people turn bad. The other shoe will fall. Fine print is going to be found. There is misfortune to be had out there. It’s just a matter of time.

And what about the tsunami of personal challenges? You, or someone you know, is facing a job loss, fighting cancer, dealing with divorce, battling addiction, or facing financial hardship.

We worry. We even feel anxious about feeling anxious.

Take heart, my friend. We all encounter anxiety, but we don’t have to give in to it. There is a path out of valley of fret, and the road map is found in the verses of Philippians 4:4-8. There are some key mile markers along the road to peace and calm.

Celebrate God’s goodness.
Ask God for help.
Leave your concerns with him.
Meditate on good things.

Is God sovereign over your circumstances?
Is he mightier than your problem?
Does he have answer to your questions?

According to Scripture, the answer is yes, yes, and yes! Trust him and you can be “anxious for nothing.” (Quote source: “Anxious for Nothing,” inside front cover, hardcover copy.)

In a chapter titled, “Think About What You Think About,” Max Lucado opens with a story of a very sick young girl named Rebecca and her mother, Christyn:

In her short thirteen years Rebecca Taylor has endured more than fifty-five surgeries and medical procedures and approximately one thousand days in the hospital.

Christyn, Rebecca’s mom, talks about her daughter’s health complications with the ease of a surgeon. The vocabulary of most moms includes phrases such as “cafeteria food,” “slumber party,” and “too much time on the phone.” Christyn knows this language, but she’s equally fluent in the vernacular of blood cells, stents, and most recently, a hemorrhagic stroke.

In her blog she wrote:

This past week’s new land mine was the phrase “possible hemorrhagic stroke,” a phrase I heard dozens of time used by numerous physicians. Over and over and over that phrase filled my mind and consumed my thoughts. It was emotionally crippling.

This past Sunday our preacher, Max Lucado, started a very fitting series on anxiety. We reviewed the familiar Philippians 4:6 verse: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

I presented my requests to the Lord as I had so many times before, but this time, THIS time, I needed more. And so, using Philippians 4:8-9 as a guide, I found my answer:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true . . .” What was true in my life at this particular moment? The blessing of all family members eating dinner together.

“Whatever is noble.” The blessing of enjoying each other’s presence outside of a hospital room.

“Whatever is right.” The blessing of experiencing my two sons’ daily lives.

“Whatever is pure.” The blessing of all three children laughing and playing with each other.

“Whatever is lovely.” The blessing of watching Rebecca sleep peacefully in her bed at night.

“Whatever is admirable.” The blessing of an honorable team working tirelessly on Rebecca’s care.

“If anything is excellent.” The blessing of watching a miracle unfold.

“Think about such things.”

I did. As I meditated on these things, I stopped the dreaded phrase “hemorrhagic stroke” from sucking any joy out of my life. Its power to produce anxiety was now rendered impotent. And when I dwelt on the bountiful blessings in my life happening AT THAT VERY MOMENT, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,” DID guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus. A true, unexpected miracle. Thank you, Lord.

Did you note what Christyn did? The words “hemorrhagic stroke” hovered over her life like a thundercloud. Yet she stopped the dreaded phrase from sucking joy out of her life.

She did so by practicing thought management. You probably know this, but in case you don’t, I am so thrilled to give you the good news: you can pick what you ponder.

You didn’t select your birthplace or birth date. You didn’t choose your parents or siblings. You don’t determine the weather or the amount of salt in the ocean. There are many things in life over which you have no choice. But the greatest activity of life is well within your dominion. You can choose what you think about. (Quote source: “Anxious for Nothing,” pp. 119-121.)

During this Advent season, why not make a list of our own “Whatever is . . .” and then “Think about such things.” It will reduce much of the anxiety we feel during the Christmas season and through the New Year, too. And it will give us that “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, [that] will guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” I’ll end this post with the words that Paul started out with in Philippians 4:4-8 . . . .

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice . . .

Let your gentleness be known to all men . . .

The Lord is at hand . . . (Phil. 4:4-5)

YouTube Video: “O come, O come Emmanuel” by The Piano Guys:

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Celebrating Advent

Advent-Candles-with-Messages

The season of Advent started this past Sunday on November 29, 2015, and will end on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2015. The following article titled, Celebrating Advent,” published on Christianity.about.com, describes Advent:

Advent is a period of spiritual preparation in which many Christians make themselves ready for the coming, or birth of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Celebrating Advent typically involves a season of prayer, fasting and repentance, followed by anticipation, hope and joy.

Many Christians celebrate Advent not only by thanking God for Christ’s first coming to Earth as a baby, but also for his presence among us today through the Holy Spiritand in preparation and anticipation of his final coming at the end of time.

The word “advent” comes from the Latin “adventus” meaning “arrival” or “coming,” particularly of something having great importance.

For denominations that celebrate Advent, it marks the beginning of the church year.

In Western Christianity, Advent begins on the fourth Sunday prior to Christmas Day, or the Sunday which falls closest to November 30, and lasts through Christmas Eve, or December 24. When Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it is the last, or fourth Sunday of Advent. (Quote source here.)

Advent Dates for 2015

November 29First Sunday of Advent
December 6Second Sunday of Advent
December 13Third Sunday of Advent
December 20Fourth Sunday of Advent

GotQuestions.org also provides the following information on Advent::

Churches that observe Advent usually decorate their sanctuaries in the liturgical color of Advent, purple (or in some cases royal blue). Some churches change the color to rose on the third or fourth Sunday of Advent to signify a greater emphasis on the joy of the season.

One of the most common Advent traditions involves the use of evergreen wreaths, branches, and trees. On the first Sunday of Advent, churches and homes are decorated with green to symbolize the eternal life that Jesus brings. An Advent wreath—an evergreen circle with four colored candles surrounding a white one in the middle—is placed in a prominent spot. The candles are then lighted one at a time, on successive Sundays. The first candle is the candle of “hope” or “expectation.” The three remaining candles on the perimeter are given various meanings depending on the church. On Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, the center white candle is lighted; this is the “Christ Candle,” a reminder that Jesus, the Light of the Word, has come.

Advent calendars, used to count down the days till Christmas, are popular in many homes. An Advent calendar contains a number of covered “windows” that are opened, one a day, until Christmas Day. Each open window reveals a picture related to the season or a poem or a Bible verse or a treat of some kind. Many parents find that an Advent calendar is a good way to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas—although there are secular versions of the calendars, too.

Should Christians observe Advent? This is a matter of personal conviction. Here is the biblical principle: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord” (Romans 14:5–6).

There is certainly nothing wrong with commemorating Jesus’ birth and anticipating His return—such commemoration and anticipation should be an everyday part of our lives. Are Christians required to observe Advent? No. Does observing Advent make one a better Christian or more acceptable to God? No. Can celebrating Advent be a good reminder of what the season is truly all about? Yes, and therein lies its greatest value. (Quote source here.)

advent-candles1The symbol most prominent in the celebration of Advent is the wreath with candles placed on it which are lit, one at a time, on the four Sundays in Advent, and the fifth candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve. The Advent wreath and candles are described as follows on Christianity.about.com:

The Advent wreath is a circular garland of evergreen branches representing eternity. On that wreath, five candles are typically arranged. During the season of Advent one candle on the wreath is lit each Sunday as a part of the Advent services. Each candle represents an aspect of the spiritual preparation for the coming of the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Set on the branches of the wreath are four candles: three purple candles and one pink candle.

In the center of the wreath sits a white candle. As a whole, these candles represent the coming of the light of Christ into the world.

On the first Sunday of Advent, the first purple candle is lit. This candle is typically called the “Prophecy Candle” in remembrance of the prophets, primarily Isaiah, who foretold the birth of Christ. This candle represents hope or expectation in anticipation of the coming Messiah.

Each week on Sunday, an additional candle is lit. On the second Sunday of Advent, the second purple candle is lit. This candle typically represents love. Some traditions call this the “Bethlehem Candle,” symbolizing Christ’s manger.

On the third Sunday of Advent the pink, or rose-colored candle is lit. This pink candle is customarily called the “Shepherds Candle” and it represents joy.

The fourth and last purple candle, oftentimes called the “Angels Candle,” represents peace and is lit on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

On Christmas Eve, the white center candle is traditionally lit. This candle is called the “Christ Candle” and represents the life of Christ that has come into the world.

The color white represents purity. Christ is the sinless, spotless, pure Savior. Also, those who receive Christ as Savior are washed of their sins and made whiter than snow.

Celebrating with an Advent wreath during the weeks prior to Christmas is a great way for Christian families to keep Christ at the center of Christmas, and for parents to teach their children the true meaning of Christmas. Another Advent tradition that can be very meaningful and fun for children is to celebrate with the Jesse Tree. (Quote source here.)

god-with-us1In an article titled, What is Advent? The Meaning Behind the Christmas Message,” by Justin Holcomb, he gives us the history of Advent and how it is celebrated today:

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming,” which is a translation of the Greek word parousia. Scholars believe that during the 4th and 5th centuries in Spain and Gaul, Advent was a season of preparation for the baptism of new Christians at the January feast of Epiphany, the celebration of God’s incarnation represented by the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus (Matthew 2:1), his baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist (John 1:29), and his first miracle at Cana (John 2:1). During this season of preparation, Christians would spend 40 days in penance, prayer, and fasting to prepare for this celebration; originally, there was little connection between Advent and Christmas.

By the 6th century, however, Roman Christians had tied Advent to the coming of Christ. But the “coming” they had in mind was not Christ’s first coming in the manger in Bethlehem, but his second coming in the clouds as the judge of the world. It was not until the Middle Ages that the Advent season was explicitly linked to Christ’s first coming at Christmas.

Today, the Advent season lasts for four Sundays leading up to Christmas. At that time, the new Christian year begins with the twelve-day celebration of Christmastide, which lasts from Christmas Eve until Epiphany on January 6. (Advent begins on the Sunday that falls between November 27th and December 3rd each year.) 

Advent symbolizes the present situation of the church in these “last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2), as God’s people wait for the return of Christ in glory to consummate his eternal kingdom. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in prayerful expectation for the coming of the Messiah. Israel looked back to God’s past gracious actions on their behalf in leading them out of Egypt in the Exodus, and on this basis they called for God once again to act for them. In the same way, 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. In this light, the Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” perfectly represents the church’s cry during the Advent season:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appears.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

While Israel would have sung the song in expectation of Christ’s first coming, the church now sings the song in commemoration of that first coming and in expectation of the second coming in the future. (Quote source here.)

Four related articles written by Justin Holcomb can be found by clicking on the following titles:

Advent I: Waiting for Christ’s Return
Advent II: The Messiah is Coming
Advent III: Rejoice! God Is With Us
Advent IV: God Keeps His Promises

Advent-Calendar-TitleOne more item associated with Advent is the Advent Calendar. The history behind the Advent Calendar is given to us compliments of GotQuestions.org:

The word “Adventhas a Latin origin meaning ‘the coming,’ or more accurately, ‘coming toward.’ For Christian believers, Christmas is one of the greatest events in the yearly cycle, being the celebration of the greatest gift ever given by God to mankind. That gift was Jesus, the Son of God Himself, born into this world in human form and coming to live among us to show us the true nature of God, experience human joy and sorrow along with us, and finally, going of His own will to die a horrible, agonizing death. In this way the price was paid for all human sin that had cut us off from our Holy God and Heavenly Father, resulting in our complete and total reconciliation with Him.

Centuries ago, the importance of this event caused many Christians to feel that it was inadequate merely to mark off only one day on the yearly calendar for celebrating this incredible gift from God. Believers had (and still do have) such a sense of awe and overwhelming gratitude and wonder at what happened that first Christmas that they felt the need for a period of preparation immediately beforehand. They could then not only take time themselves to meditate on it, but also teach their children the tremendous significance of Christmas.

At first, the days preceding Christmas were marked off from December 1 with chalk on believers’ doors. Then in Germany in the late 19th century the mother of a child named Gerhard Lang made her son an Advent Calendar comprised of 24 tiny sweets stuck onto cardboard. Lang never forgot the excitement he felt when he was given his Advent calendar at the beginning of each December, and how it reminded him every day that the greatest celebration of the whole year was approaching ever nearer. As an adult he went into partnership with his friend Reichhold and opened a printing office. In 1908, they produced what is thought to be the first-ever printed Advent Calendar with a small colored picture for each day in Advent. Later on, at the beginning of the 20th century, they hit on the idea of making the pictures into little shuttered windows for the children to open day by day in order to heighten their sense of expectation.

The idea of the Advent Calendar caught on with other printing firms as the demand swiftly increased, and many versions were produced, some of which would have printed on them Bible verses appropriate to the Advent period. By now the Advent Calendar had gained international popularity, and children all over the world were clamoring for them as December approached. Unfortunately, the custom came to an end with the beginning of the First World War when cardboard was strictly rationed and only allowed to be used for purposes necessary to the war effort. However, in 1946, when rationing began to ease following the end of the Second World War, a printer named Richard Sellmer once again introduced the colorful little Advent Calendar, and again it was an immediate success.

Sadly, with the wane of Christianity in Western nations, the Advent Calendar, although still enormously popular with all children, has lost its true meaning. Many, many children and their parents have no idea of the history of the little calendar or its true purpose, which is to prepare us for the celebration of the advent of the Christ-child. Even if they do know, most would not care. Also, the makers of today’s Advent calendars are anxious only to sell their product, and the majority of these neither know nor care about the meaning and purpose of Advent. Their calendars depict Santa Claus and his reindeer, snowmen, holly, mistletoe, and all the secular trappings of Christmas behind the little windows, often along with a piece of chocolate. Fortunately, however, Christian printers are still with us to manufacture calendars for children from Christian families that unfold the story of the nativity with each window that is opened. We, as Christian believers, pray that one day the whole world will be aware of the incredible wonder of the true meaning of Advent and Christmas. (Quote source here.)

I hope this background information on the celebration of Advent provides additional meaning for us as we celebrate this Christmas season. In the hustle and bustle of all the activities, let us take time to pause and reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. . . .

O come . . .

O come . . .

Emmanuel . . . .

YouTube Video: “O Come, Emmanuel [Christmas Version]” (Piano/Cello duet) by ThePianoGuys [Original version can be viewed at this link–the music is identical in both videos]:

Photo #1 credit here
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