Today kicks off a four week Advent series, where each week we will explore a different aspect of spiritually preparing for Christmas. This week’s focus is on hope.
My girls get so very excited when we invite guests to our home. It’s not that it’s an irregular occurrence, but that the anticipation of a new person coming over just never gets old to them. They stand at the front door, twirling and bouncing in the foyer, peering through the glass panes until a car coasts into the driveway. Then they fling the door open and greet our guests before they can even step foot on our walkway. We have quite the hospitality crew!
The Advent season begins this Sunday and will continue until Christmas. The word "Advent" means coming in Latin. It’s about the most divine Guest leaving heaven to come to earth, for the greatest rescue mission of all time.
Advent is a time to spiritually prepare your heart to receive the true meaning of Christmas - Christ come to save us.
It is a time of reflection, repentance and renewal.
Can I make a confession? I had never heard of Advent until I was in my 20s. Not all denominations follow a liturgical calendar or the traditions that represent such seasons. While most people know that Christmas marks the birth of Christ, the significance of that long-awaited day can be overshadowed by commercialism and busyness - even at church.
When my husband traveled to Tokyo a few years ago in December, he was surprised to find the city ablaze with Christmas decorations. Why would a predominantly Shinto and Buddhist country that is only 1% Christian celebrate the arrival of Jesus? Because to them, this holiday is more about Santa than a Savior.
Could the same be said of us?
We fill our calendars with parties, cookie exchanges and shopping, but do we fill our souls with the everlasting message of God come to save us? Does the noise of the holiday stifle the sacredness of this most holy day? Do we see the hope of our own spiritual birth in the nativity, through an infant born in Bethlehem?
Let us not miss Christmas!
For 4,000 years, since Adam and Eve believed the lie and were cast out of the Garden of Eden, humanity waited for God to send a King. God protected His people and graced them with His presence, but it wasn’t the intimate, all-access relationship for which He’d created them.
Our hearts have always hoped to be reunited with our Maker.
For the four weeks leading up to Christmas, we can step back in time and remember the "great cloud of witnesses" who longed for and anticipated the coming of Christ (Hebrews 12:1). We can pinpoint our lives on God's timeline and find purpose in that eternal perspective.
We can pause to reflect on the Light of the world who came to break through our darkness.
"You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him … Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation. The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing. The Messiah’s Spirit let them in on some of it ...They clamored to know who and when. All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves—through the Holy Spirit—the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this! (I Peter 1:8-12 MSG).
Do we realize how fortunate we are - to be people on the other side of the first coming of Christ? To be people included in God's orders from heaven, the ones that even angels envy? To be people no longer waiting for their Rescuer, who have the realized hope through the resurrection that leads us directly to God's inner sanctuary (Hebrews 6:19)?
God chose to entrust a few with His hope message, that one day a Messiah would come and make a way for His beloved to never be separated from Him again. And they waited. And waited. And waited. Then with remarkable clarity, the prophet Isaiah foretold of the birth of Jesus more than 700 years before He came.
“So the Master is going to give you a sign. Watch for this: A girl who is presently a virgin will get pregnant. She’ll bear a son and name him Immanuel (God-With-Us)” (Isaiah 7:14 MSG).
It's always been God's plan, from the beginning, to come for His kids (I Peter 1:20). He put flesh on Spirit and tore through our suffering and grief and heart ache with the tearing of His own flesh on the Cross (John 1:14).
A baby born to die is the world's greatest hope.
"For a child has been born—for us! The gift of a son—for us! He’ll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counselor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness. His ruling authority will grow, and there’ll be no limits to the wholeness he brings" (Isaiah 9:6-7 MSG).
Are we watching, waiting, expectant and hopeful of what Christ wants to give us this Christmas? Will we throw the door of our hearts open to Him, to welcome Him, receive Him and fully enjoy Him?
If we aren’t careful, we can miss why and, more accurately, Who, we are celebrating.
Maybe your soul is aching as the Advent season begins. Maybe it’s anxious or angry or just downright apathetic towards all this holiday nonsense. Your instinct may be to shut the door of your heart, isolate yourself from the joy that is to be had in celebrating this glorious day - more so, in beholding God every day. Don’t do it!
“When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions: Wait for hope to appear” (Lamentations 3:28 MSG).
Like giddy children eager for a guest to arrive, wait for hope.
It is coming. He came.
Hope will not disappoint or put us to shame “because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).
Let the promise of Christ rise up in your hearts to steady and satisfy you in a season that can leave you stressed and spinning.
Let the mere mention of His name stir a fresh hope within you. Drink up this full-bodied hope that will fill and warm your soul.
“We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise” (Romans 5:1-2 MSG).
The greatest gift we’ll unwrap this Christmas is the living hope of Jesus. Wait for it. Watch for it. Expect it. Hold fast to it.
Abide in Jesus this Advent season and always.