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This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word meaning “coming.” The purpose of this long-standing Christian tradition is to look forward to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet, in all reality, seems rather awkward to celebrate Advent in our day and time. We are, after all, looking “forward” to something that took place over 2,000 years ago. Unlike Simeon, we are not waiting for the consolation of Israel; unlike Mary and Joseph, we are not waiting for the consummation of the angelic news of a miraculous conception. Unlike the shepherds, we are not rushing with anticipation to the birthplace of the Messiah. Unlike the Magi, we are not following the strange star in the East.
Yet, beginning with the first fourth Sunday prior to Christmas we light a candle and begin to look, to wait, with anticipation.
With three of the world’s most marketable holidays taking place within weeks of each other, consumers can purchase Halloween candy, a Thanksgiving turkey and a nativity at the same time. Black Friday is now on Thursday and it seems that the retail powers-that-be are pushing the Christmas season further back into the year. We saw Christmas decorations going up in people’s homes well before we watched Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, in some cases just days after the ghosts and goblins were taken down. But Walmart isn’t the only one hastening the holiday. Being on a church staff I see the Christmas mail-outs very early as concert promoters, publishing houses and music companies vie for our business; and yes, our choir began practicing for the annual cantata weeks ago. In the midst of this blur it seems odd to speak of looking forward to something that is already before our eyes.
That is precisely why Advent is so important. It’s not about bells and smells, lighting candles and singing carols; the point is to stop and look forward. At Advent we stop and look forward through the fog of materialism and marketing to see the real reason we should celebrate Christmas. On the other side of the fog we see a smelly stable in Bethlehem. We hear the painful cry of a woman in childbirth suddenly become the joyful cry of a new mother. You hear the rustling of animals mixed with the cries of an infant. We don’t smell scented candles but the odor of manure.
Advent reminds us that something had to happen that was beyond human comprehension. It means that God had to become a man and dwell among men. God had to enter time and space and submit himself to nine months in the womb of a virgin. He had to be born into obscurity, in the backwoods of Palestine, under the shadow of the Roman Empire.
He had to be born to a virgin. He had to live a perfect life. He had to die on a Roman cross for crimes he was innocent of in order to atone for sins that were not his own. He had to be buried and, after three days, raised from the dead. Advent means we need a savior.
So in the next few weeks, try to peel away the layers of worldliness to see the joy of the season. Enjoy the traditions, give gifts and extend hospitality, but do so because you have received the greatest gift of all, the gift of God’s grace in the Lord Jesus Christ. He came to us, so we can come to him. This is Advent.
Brian Owens is an associate pastor with youth and children emphasis at Farmdale Baptist Church. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.