We are excited to share Day 6 of WL Advent with this reflection and song from New Scottish Hymns.
What is Advent? By Robb Redman
Christmas is a fantastic season and there is every reason to pull out all the stops to celebrate the Incarnation, God “moving into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14, Message) But by starting our Christmas celebration right after Thanksgiving (or even earlier), we skip over Advent, the four Sundays prior to Christmas Eve. The mood and message of Advent is not opposed to the celebration of Christmas, but the season is clearly much more than just the run-up to Christmas. It is a season to experience God’s goodness and faithfulness more authentically from a different, and frankly, a deeper and more encouraging angle. And who couldn’t use that right now?
You see, the Advent message is the perfect one for pastors and worship leaders trying to serve God and his people during a time of a global pandemic. We’ve been telling our people since March in response to the pandemic that God is in control, but we’ve been saying it so long that we’ve run out ways to say it, and we’re wondering if people have started tuning us out. And some of us are starting to have doubts and questions of our own. With Christmas around the corner, what can encourage us and restore our hope and faith in God again? We need to be immersed in the reminder and reassurance of God’s sovereign plans and purposes if we’re going to lead with confidence. Which is why Advent is important now more than ever.
What is Advent? This year, first Sunday of Advent falls on November 29, so there are 26 days in the season. Advent is more than a pre-Christmas celebration of the birth of Jesus. Throughout the history of the Church, Advent has been about much more. The traditional mood and message of Advent includes three main themes:
- Israel’s yearning for deliverance and its hope and expectation of the appearing (Latin: advent) of the promised Messiah.
- God’s preparation for the coming of the Messiah through the announcements to Mary, Joseph, and Mary’s extended family.
- The Church’s longing for the return of Christ and the fulfillment of redemption at the day of the Lord.
The readings for Advent in the Protestant and Roman Catholic lectionaries reflect these three main themes of the season. During Advent we re-live and re-tell the important prophecies and stories that proclaim the God who keeps his promises. It is this “back story” of Israel’s experience and faith, and a specific Jewish family, that makes the news of Jesus’ birth truly gospel, really good news.
The hope and expectation of God’s covenant people for deliverance is found throughout the Old Testament prophets. They warned the people of imminent disaster resulting from disobedience to God through idolatry and faith in political alliances, but they also proclaimed God’s promise of deliverance and restoration. After the fall of Jerusalem, the prophets continued to hope in God, who would restore Israel and rule in righteousness through his Messiah. More than that, they saw the bigger picture of God’s redemptive purposes, his intended to defeat evil, sin and death itself, and restore all nations to a right relationship with him in the day of the Lord.
In the years leading up to Jesus’ birth, the plight of God’s people went from bad to worse. Israel was occupied, first by the Greeks and then the Romans. Worst of all, God seemed silent; four hundred years had passed since the last prophet, Malachi. The opening chapters of Matthew and Luke report that God was on the move, quietly and in the most inconspicuous ways, making preparations for the arrival of his Son, Jesus, through Mary and her family, and her fiancé, Joseph. The time had come, and God set in motion the events that would culminate in the birth of Jesus, the Incarnation. Paul tells us that “…when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law…” (Galatians 4:4)
Finally, hope of Israel and the first advent of Jesus serve to direct our attention to his second and more glorious coming. Advent reminds us that God’s plans and purposes will one day unfold on a global scale, and “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)