In my younger days if Advent had asked me, “what do you think of me”, I would have dismissively said, “I don’t think much of you at all”. For one, I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and didn’t come to faith in Christ until my late teens. Moreover, the churches I attended for many years after becoming a Christian wouldn’t have touched advent with a ten-foot candle. I was aware of advent, but saw it as a man-made religious exercise of Catholics and some mainline Protestants; besides where in the bible does it tell me to particularly observe the four weeks prior to Christmas – of course the same logic didn’t apply to Christmas itself!
If you have similar questions about the observance of Advent, or simply wish to understand this season better, in honour of its four-week length here are four ways I now appreciate this opportunity to reflect more deeply on the coming of Christ.
1. Advent places me within a larger context of expectation
The bible’s storyline builds to the climax of our Messiah’s birth over two thousand years ago. Adam and Eve had barely wiped the evidence of forbidden fruit from their lips when God promised them a deliverer (Genesis 3:15). Two millennia before Christ, God chose Abraham’s family as the line of blessing for all nations. Another millennium forward in the lineage brings us to King David and an increased expectation of Messianic hope (cf Psalm 22). Seven centuries before Christ Isaiah wrote of the coming Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace (Is 9). Advent reminds me that Jesus’ coming was not into a vacuum, but was rather the fulfilment of several thousand years of mounting hope and expectation.
2. Advent places me within a larger story
Just because I didn’t think of Advent it doesn’t mean I didn’t think of Christmas. Unfortunately, too much of my thinking was self-centred: what I would give or receive, where I would go or who I would host. Advent helps to give me perspective. Before the foundation of the world, God wrote a book: “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8) Jesus is the main character of God’s eternal plan of salvation: and we are amazingly privileged to be part of it!
3. Advent slows the pace of a frantic month
December brings with it a very crowded calendar including social opportunities, shopping, decorating, student exams, year-end work, travel, and extra church events. It is a dizzying pace and I must admit I struggle to pace it appropriately. God exhorts us to: “Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10).” Be encouraged that God fulfilled all his promises in Christ “in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4)”. Advent humbles me as I consider God’s patient, deliberate, unfolding salvation story.
4. Advent deepens my confidence in God’s promises
Reflecting upon the first advent of Christ, his incarnation, thrills and fills my heart with confident expectation of his second advent, his return. As I consider God’s faithfulness to his promises past, I am reassured of his promises that await. This confidence in Christ’s glorious return inspires evangelism (Matthew 24), encourages Christian gathering (Hebrews 10:25), and equips us for joyful suffering (Hebrews 10:34).
God’s people have always been a people of hope and expectation. Take some time this Advent season to reflect more deeply on the hope of Christ and find God’s “joy and peace in believing”!