Did you hear it? That was the sound of the starting pistol. Cue the mad dash! Don’t just stand there, run! Never mind that the shot rings out right in the heart of a day dedicated for thanksgiving. With bellies full of turkey and dressing, our attention instantly flips to things like doorbusters, wish lists, and “limit one per customer.” Don’t feel like risking a limb on Black Friday? No worries. There’s always Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and if there’s anything left over, pitch in a little something on Giving Tuesday. Happy Thanksgiving… crack! The mad dash gets fueled with peppermint mochas, arguments about the in-laws, and fifteen rounds of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime.” Before you can recite all twelve days of Christmas by heart, you’re staring at a living room full of crazy Black Friday deals, empty boxes, and mounds of wrapping paper, wondering where the last four weeks went. Finally, you marvel at the fact that at the end of every annual mad dash, the finish line always seems so unfulfilling. Merry Christmas.
Maybe this isn’t your experience. Maybe I’ve described your experience a little too accurately. All of us can look around and see this is the culture we are living in. The Christmas season is upon us, and so you’d better get busy. It is my intent in this article to provide an alternative perspective during the advent season.
Advent. That’s a word that this Southern Baptist boy had never really heard or paid attention to. I was 24 years old and serving as a worship pastor at a church in Ventura, CA, when I first learned of Advent. If you didn’t grow up in a church that followed the Revised Common Lectionary or Liturgical Calendar, the name “advent” is probably foreign to you too. Simply put, Advent is the season of expectation and preparation for the celebration of Christmas.
In many Christian churches, Advent is celebrated beginning on the fourth or fifth Sunday before Christmas, and ending on Christmas day. The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, which simply means “coming.” When we speak of Jesus’ advent, we are typically referring to Jesus Christ coming to us at the Nativity. Remember the Apostle John’s words: “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world… He came to His own…” (John 1:9,11, ESV, emphasis mine). Sometimes you’ll hear Christians speak of Jesus’ second advent. They are referring to the future second coming of Christ. When you hear the word “advent,” simply think of Jesus coming. But I am not as interested in the definition of advent as I am in the practice of advent. Why has the Church insisted for centuries on observing the season of Advent? And what could observing the season of advent personally do for my life?
Pastor and theologian, Paul David Tripp, writes and speaks frequently on something he calls “the danger of familiarity.” To explain his point, he uses a rose garden. In his book, Come, Let Us Adore Him, Tripp writes:
Pretend that you have moved to a new neighborhood and the first morning, when you go out to walk your dog, you happen upon a beautiful municipal rose garden. Although Fido is yanking on his leash, you just stand there, blown away at the display of early-morning beauty that is before you. You can’t wait to get home to tell your family what you discovered, and you’re excited about taking them there to see it too. But as you walk by that garden day after day, something happens to you. Within a few weeks you walk by without stopping, and in a few months you don’t even notice the roses anymore. Familiarity has done this to you; what you once celebrated, you now don’t even notice (Tripp, p.10-11, emphasis mine).
Is it possible to “get over” God? That’s a loaded question! “What a horrible thought!” you say. God is too magnificent, too transcendent, and far too glorious to ever become old news! True. All true. God is never old news and He is never, ever lacking in anything. But I would posit that it is possible for us to get over God. And this ho-hum mentality says nothing about God’s worth and majesty, and everything about the depravity of our hearts.
Remember the Israelites? How many times did God miraculously deliver the Israelites, only to find them complaining and forgetting Him? In Exodus 14, God does the unthinkable by parting the Red Sea, allowing His people to cross over in safety and freedom. In one miraculous event, God delivers His covenant people and judges their enemies right before their very eyes! They sing a song about it in Exodus 15. No sooner is the song over, and Israel starts to complain about bitter water. God miraculously turns the water sweet. Chapter 16, the Israelites grumble with hunger pangs. God miraculously provides sweet bread from heaven. No really… bread literally fell from the sky! Chapter 17, Israel is thirsty and complaining again! God miraculously provides water from a rock… a rock! Read on. It doesn’t get much better. What does all of this say about God? He’s able, faithful, and altogether good. What does all of this say about mankind?
There is something very wrong with us, and it goes straight to the heart.
Our hearts are fickle. In one moment, we can sing God’s praises, our hearts rejoicing and marveling at His goodness and grace. In less than an hour, our hearts long with the same vigorous affection for fast food. We forget God and marvel at the dust and ashes. Like it or not, an honest assessment of ourselves leads us to the conclusion that sin twists our affections and fights for our attention. Satan doesn’t need us to sing his praises… he just needs us to be distracted. Distractions come when the voice of the culture, applause of man, and the shiny trinkets of this world become more beautiful, more captivating than the One who created it all and loves us completely. His story becomes old news. His praises become repetitious duty. It’s the same-old same-old. Ho-hum. We can recite John 3:16 like it was the alphabet. When referring to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we can actually say things like, “I already know it” and “I learned that a long time ago. Teach me something new!” The danger of familiarity.
If you’re not just a little depressed, go back and read the previous paragraph again. Our God is the Living God. We should never allow our hearts to wander from the wonder of that magnificent truth. Praise God that He has provided salvation from His wrath toward such heart-attitudes in the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ! If you are in Christ, dear reader, you will not face the penalty for your sins against Him. His love covers you, and you stand perfectly holy, clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness.
But there is still a danger. The danger of familiarity.
While the danger of familiarity cannot cause us to lose our salvation, it will absolutely lead us to awe-less, wonder-less, worship-less, passion-less living. We will live life as Peter says “nearsighted,” practically blind (2 Peter. 1:9), an odd creature who publicly sings the praises of a life lived in righteous sobriety through slurred speech and a drunken stupor. There is something far more glorious happening all around us every second of every day – far more glorious than we act. What keeps us from the danger of familiarity? One short answer is: remembrance.
And so, back to advent.
The season of advent beckons us to stop and remember. The practice of advent is an invitation to pause, catch our breath, and remember our hearts’ truest longing and our souls’ greatest need… a Savior.
It is an opportunity to gather our loved ones together and declare, “Behold! Look what our God has done!” The advent season is a gift.
So what are some ways we can celebrate and observe advent this season? Here are just a few points to get us started:
- Repent. Start here. If your holiday seasons are marked by stress, fatigue, busy-ness, and short tempers… stop. Take a breath. Ask for God’s forgiveness for allowing the culture around you to hijack your heart. Ask Him for the strength to do whatever is necessary to re-center your heart and your affection on Him. Take the necessary steps, no matter how radical it may seem, to recapture the awe and wonder of God.
- Get in the Word daily. If regular Bible reading is not a part of your daily routine, there’s no better time to start than right now! Consider this: the Almighty God of the universe, Creator of heaven and Earth, the most glorious and majestic King of Kings, is ready and willing to reveal Himself personally to you. Wow! And guess how He has uniquely revealed Himself to us… through His Word. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar. Simply open it up fifteen minutes a day and begin reading. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to see His glory and wonder. Start in the Gospels. Get a good advent reading plan. Just google it and you’ll find lots of options. However you do it, get in the Word today and discover the wonder and awe of God.
- Go to church. God has given the Church to you, and He has given you to the Church. When you are not actively present at your church, something is lacking. We need each other to help spur us on, to remember the love of the Father, and to rekindle our love for Him. Don’t forsake the meeting. It may not always be spectacular when God’s people gather together, but it is always
- Gather good Advent resources and devotionals. There are so many great resources out there to help you rediscover the wonder and majesty of Christmas. Among them, Come, Let Us Adore Him, by Paul David Tripp, is a wonderful devotional to be read throughout December. Each chapter leads you to view the nativity through new eyes. He even provides optional methods to include your kids! Behold the Lamb of God, by Russ Ramsey, is another great resource. Listen to Christmas hymns and carols. Take time to read hymns and carols! These are loaded with amazing theology and beautiful words to help rekindle your heart’s longing for Jesus.
- Get the kids involved. When your kids see you this Christmas season, do they see a man or woman who is frazzled, stressed out, and short-tempered? What if they saw parents and grandparents who were in awe? Take the time to pause with your kids. Teach them the wonder of Christmas. Show them the supreme worth of the God who entered His own creation to rescue and save. Initiate family worship this season. Take ten to fifteen minutes each day to simply pause with your family, read from the Bible, sing, and pray. Our children learn what is most valuable in life through their parents and grandparents. Who will win in your home? The mad dash, or Jesus Christ, Son of the Most High? Speak about the wonder of what God did when you shop and when you drive around, at breakfast and at dinner. Invite them to marvel with you.
- Give your money, your time, and yourself. Perhaps nothing speaks more to the gift-giving nature of God than when His people give sacrificially. Find places this season to give back, either financially or physically. Look for opportunities to show unthinkable acts of grace and kindness. Become a “hilarious” giver and invite your kids into the action! The ultimate act of the celebration of Christmas is giving!
They can keep their mad dash. I pray we will all take the time this season to respond to the worthy invitation before us, to discover anew the depths and riches of God. Pause and reflect on the nature and wonder of our great and glorious God, the Infinite Infant… the God who came to us.