Nov 29, 2011

Advent Countdown to Christmas 2011

Advent is about waiting. What exactly are we waiting for?

Advent means “the appearance or coming of the Lord” in New Testament theology. Accordingly, Paul writes in his letters about the two comings of the Lord. The first coming is what Christians celebrate when they observe the festival of Christmas. The Second Advent, what the church calls the “parousia” or the so-called “Second Coming of Christ,” addresses when Jesus returns to accomplish or complete history as humans understand it.

The Second Coming also ushers in what Hebrew scripture calls “The Day of the Lord,” or “Yom Yahweh.” Paul reminds the church at Philippi that the Lord will protect and fulfill the Lord’s promise on this day. Thus, the theological importance of the Advent of Christ and Christmas has deep religious implications. The coming of Christ is a tangible symbol of the fulfillment of God’s ultimate promises to God’s people.

To bring all this theology back to earth, I suggest that when life is tough on Christians the best defense is to remember what God has done. It is also important to remember what God has promised to continue to do for Christians. To fully and clearly remember God’s promises may fill us with joy. After all, God promises to do for God’s people everything that they cannot or will not do for themselves.

Divine gifts provide human beings with every reason for joy and rejoicing. When God’s promises fill us, we realize that we may contain authentic joy. As Charles Wagner wrote: “Joy is not a thing, it is in us.” In other words, we do not grab for joy, rather joy grabs us. Consequently Paul can write—and mean it—“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We, as Christians, rejoice because we know the source of our joy is not within us. Our joy comes from God.

Every pastor I know has a persistent love/hate relationship with his or her church. We love our churches, but we hate some of the things people we love do to themselves and to others. I know pastors who despair when their church members violate marriage vows, or break a promise not to drink again, or disappointed their children by forgetting their little ones’ importance. Yet the joy generated in being a pastor is not from the people we serve. Rather, the joy is in serving God, who has called them into ministry.

A beautiful quilt, given to my family by one of our first churches, hangs over the end of our bed. Stitched into the quilt were the names of every member of that church. Those names constantly remind us of a gift of love that produces joy in our lives. The quilt reminds us of the loving relationship between a church and its pastoral family.

Sometimes, I can even imagine that God looks at the names God has stitched into the heavens. As God looks at these names, God no doubt ponders of the loving relationship between Christ’s saints through the centuries and God’s own self. To be in that number is all the success that any human being needs. To be in that number is all the love that any human being needs. To be in that number is all the joy that any human being needs. We need not strive for it because God has given to us as a gift. We call the gift the demonstration of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Christmas, and the Advent of Christ that precedes it, is a constant reminder that God plants our joy into our hearts. We do not need to seek joy, nor do we have to work for it. Our faith in Christ gives us our joy. This is the true Christmas present that we may search for over a lifetime—and our joy was here all along.

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