Advent is one of the church seasons that seems to be either unnecessary or shrouded in mystery. Why does the church celebrate Advent? Why do we light candles at church during the month of December? Why don’t we simply celebrate Christmas for the whole month? Wait, are Advent and Christmas actually different? These questions and more fill the brains of many astute worshipers during the month of December, and I hope to take the next 400-500 words to explain why the church celebrates the season of Advent and why it matters.
Advent has been celebrated by the church since her origins, and it is a season that reminds us of two truths: first, that slowing down and preparing are necessary in our lives, and second, that we are called to be a people who live in the tension of waiting and receiving. Advent includes the four weeks preceding Christmas and reminds us to slow down and prepare for the coming of Jesus. Christmas, for much of society, is a time to run from party to party, store to store, and one special event to another. Yet Advent teaches us that Christians need to slow down, that we must intentionally take an inventory of our lives and prepare for the coming of Jesus. Far too often we live life at a pace that is not sustainable, and Advent reminds us to slow our pace and say, with the great hymn writer Charles Wesley, “Come Thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free!”
In Advent, we pause, prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus in Christmas, and we remind ourselves that even in the midst of an Amazon Prime two-day shipping world, we are a people called to live in the tension of waiting and receiving. You see, not only does Advent help us prepare properly for the coming of Christ in Christmas, it also gives us the space to ponder and anticipate the second coming (or Advent) of Jesus, the time when He returns to our world and, as the book of Revelation says, “makes all things new.” Advent is a season that helps us prepare for Christ’s coming in the manger, but it also reminds us that Jesus is coming again and that we need to orient our lives around preparing for that. Most things in society are immediate; like two-day shipping or fast food. Yet, like a mother waits 9 months for the birth of her child, Christians live in the tension of Christ coming as a baby in Christmas and His final return. Advent is a season of waiting, anticipating, and longing for the joy that proclaims, “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King!” This anticipation is fulfilled on December 25, but only in part; in the meantime, we wait.
So take the next few weeks and make room for Jesus. Two thousand years ago, the Holy Family went from house to house in Bethlehem, looking for a room to safely welcome Jesus into the world. He is still searching for lives that will make room for Him this Christmas. Making space for Him can include incorporating an Advent or Christmas devotional into your routine (I recommend Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger) or spending 15-20 minutes in the morning in prayer. It could also mean you make a decision to be more intentional with your time; maybe the most important decision you can make this Advent season is to say no to a party and stay home with your family. God will lead you if you give Him the time to speak. Slow down this Advent and allow yourself the space to properly welcome Jesus because He has come, He continues to come, and He will come again.
If you are interested in learning more about Advent or simply want to lean into the season more intentionally, join Gaylyn Kelly and me as we lead a three-week Advent study on Wednesday nights at Mt. Bethel. Learn more about the study, and register here »
Joshua Toepper, Director of Adult Discipleship