Guest post by Joshua Toepper
Christmas is almost here. We are just starting the season in the Christian calendar called “Advent.” It 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? Wait, are Advent and Christmas actually different? These questions and more fill the minds of many astute worshipers during the month of December, so let me try and explain why the church celebrates Advent and why it matters.
What it is
Advent is one of those ancient traditions of the Church. It includes the four weeks preceding Christmas and reminds us to slow down and prepare for the coming of Jesus. It is meant to remind us of two truths:
- It is necessary for us to slow down and prepare for the coming of Jesus.
- We are called to be a people who live in the tension of waiting and receiving.
Time to Slow Down
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!”
Time to Wait
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 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 helps us prepare for Christ’s coming in the manger, but it also reminds us that Jesus is coming again in glory, and that we need to orient our lives around preparing for that.
We live in a society of microwave foods, drive-thru windows, and two-day shipping. Yet, like a mother waits nine months for the birth of her child, Christians live in the waiting of Christ coming as a baby in Christmas and as a King in His final return. In Advent we wait, anticipate, and long for the joy that proclaims,
“Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King!”
This anticipation will be 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 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.
Rev. Joshua Toepper is director of Adult Discipleship at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church near Atlanta, GA. He is an alumnus of ILI’s History Makers Program and worked at our international office. This post was originally published on Mt. Bethel’s website.