Advent and the Story of Jesus

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as Children.”

~ Galatians 4:4-5

The last Sunday in November marks the beginning of Advent for us this year. For the next four weeks the lessons for Sunday mornings are a series of Bible readings encouraging God’s people to get ready for the coming of Jesus. It’s a time of anticipation. As we count the days and light candles, we watch and wait for Jesus. Advent practices vary between families and churches; some are helpful and some are less so.

advent-birch

When I was a boy, I had classmates whose families would get a piece of birch wood, drill five holes—one for each Sunday of Advent and one for Christmas—and place a candle in each hole. They would decorate the logs with greens and ribbons and place them as centerpieces on their dinner tables. Every Sunday they’d light a new candle until all five were burning on Christmas Eve. My dad, though, was the fire chief, and he’d seen too many house fires start with one carelessly placed candle, so we usually stuck to the big cardboard calendars filled with chocolates and enjoyed the candles at church.

As the people of God, our preparations can take many forms, and often involve meal planning, travel, going to church, checking the list and buying the gifts, and no small amount of wonder, anxiety, and hopefulness.

magi

Whatever preparations your family makes in this time approaching Christmas—however you mark Advent together—I encourage you to also sit down and read the Gospel of Matthew. One of the best ways to look forward to the coming of our Lord is to look back at what our Lord Jesus did when he was here all those years ago. Matthew will occupy our Sunday gospel lessons over the coming year, and he’s not that difficult to sit down and read in one sitting.

So open your Bible. Enjoy the story of Jesus born of Mary and visited by the Magi, baptized by John, calling his disciples, healing the sick, and challenging the proud. Be haunted by the burden of the cross, the brutality of Calvary, and the burial in that stone cold tomb. And marvel at the angel’s question, “Why seek ye the living amongst the dead?”

Happy Advent. Merry Christmas. God bless. Come Lord Jesus.

Born thy people to deliver, born a child, and yet a king;
born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit raise us to thy glorious throne.

~Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, verse 2, Charles Wesley

The Bible for Losers Like Us

Thus says the LORD, “A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.” ~ Jeremiah 31:15

The stories of the Bible we’re most familiar with are often those that end with “and he went his way rejoicing.” Healings, pronouncements of forgiveness, joyous reunions (think prodigal son), and the like dominate our Sunday readings and much of the biblical material that is dealt with in popular Christian books. Beyond these happy stories, we might know some hard sayings of Jesus where Jesus really takes the Pharisees to the woodshed on this or that issue. Yet the Bible is much richer, and reaches much deeper into life than this.

joelsteen

As the passage above demonstrates, the Bible goes down to the very bottom of human experience, to most indescribable pains that anyone can experience. The loss of children who aren’t raised from the dead, incurable illnesses that don’t end in miraculous healings, the loss of all hope that is never restored—all of this can be found in the scriptures, and I’m convinced that one of the reasons that people who are experiencing the worst of life so often leave the church, is because we so rarely venture to the Bible’s dark places.

death-camp

During the month of November, I’ll be offering a class and Bible study following Sunday worship in which we’ll visit some of these dark places: Through the Fire: The Bible for Mourners, Worriers, Addicts, the Depressed, and Other Troubled Souls: Sundays, November 6, 13, 20, & 27, 10:45 – 11:45 a.m. Everyone is invited.

through-the-fire

As we open the Bible to these harder stories, it’s my hope that we’ll see that the Bible actually has something to say to us when we find ourselves in similarly difficult circumstances. Because if the Bible can tell an ugly story without flinching—if it can speak of the slaughter of children, if it can tell of a people who repent and yet still receive judgment, if it can record the life of a good man reduced to ashes for no reason, if it can tell of Jesus Christ crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” on the cross—if it can do all this and still declare the goodness of God, then the promise of this God in Jesus Christ must have some real power, even for the God-forsaken among us.

I hope you’ll join us in class.