I should have posted this one a couple weeks ago when Pastor Sumpter (Moscow, ID) wrote this one… but if you adjust the beginning by a couple weeks, it is still entirely fitting. Hope those preparations are well in order! And if they aren’t, no worries — just enjoy catching up. 🙂
I’m adding some bold text to this exhortation, fyi. Because I simply love it! People drive me batty when they want to downplay Christmas with the excuse of “fighting commercialism” (or whatever). It ends up that they are the ones focusing more on money and material things than anyone else, and mucking up the joyfulness of giving in the process, not to mention forgetting God’s goodness. It’s stupid. So I love how Sumpter words this. It gave me goosebumps the first time I read it. I wish I could memorize it and recite it the next time I hear someone pull out the conversation starter of un-Christmasing this year! And like Mr. Klein (an officer from our church who is currently serving in Afghanistan) said, this is our time of year!! Let’s make it look like it. We Christians own this season. It’s ours. Go, show the world.
We are drawing near to the end of Trinity Season in the Church calendar. Two weeks from today is the First Sunday in Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent is the beginning and the end of the Church Year. It is the end in so far as it commemorates the final coming of the Lord Jesus in judgment at the end of the world, the culmination of all things. And it is the beginning in so far as we look back and remember all the advents of God in history, culminating in the Incarnation. And as we look forward to this season, I want to exhort you to two things: First, on the practical side, you should start preparing now for Advent and Christmas and the coming celebration of the life of Christ. But your preparation should not be based on the commercials and advertisements and catalogues that are beginning to fill your mailboxes. Of course, we want to be a people full of generosity and gift giving is certainly part of that, but begin planning for it. This means planning with regard to your budget, planning to be generous, planning to share with others. This means planning your calendar: how will you celebrate Advent with your family? What about Christmas? How about Epiphany? How will you remember together and with friends and neighbors? Remember that the calendar is really just an excuse to say thank you; the calendar is a way of organizing your thankfulness to God and we express that gratitude by sharing it with our children, with our neighbors, and coworkers. The last point is that we want to do all of this in light of the end. Advent remembers all the ways God has come, and looks forward in faith to all the ways He will continue to come, culminating in His second coming, the Final Advent when the Lord comes to judge the living and the dead. And this means that we want to celebrate, give thanks, and rejoice in light of eternity, in light of the Final Advent. We want to celebrate now as those who are ready for the return of the Master. Of course Jesus may not return for another fifty thousand years, but remembering the end of the story is one of the best ways to be faithful in the middle of it. And the point is just be thankful and rejoice in the Lord, don’t put on a show, don’t envy your neighbors, don’t pat yourself on the back for doing more than the guy down at that other church. Just be thankful, and use every chance you get to make a big deal about the goodness of God.
And here we go, catching up to the first week of Advent. Can I honestly admit that I have never really thought of Advent as a season of penitence? I feel like I’ve been missing something. But I love this reminder in the form of what seems to us to be a dichotomy (but obviously isn’t): penitence being shown by parties and carols and decorations and gifts and chocolate. I love that. And of course by confession and repentance. But those can be joyful and noisy too. Praise God.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent and this season has historically been understood and celebrated as a season of preparation and penitence. And it might seem odd to us as we begin celebrating this season of penitence to start having parties and singing carols and putting up decorations. Isn’t penitence all about sitting quietly, morosely meditating in the dark, all alone? Of course there may always be times for quiet and thoughtful reflection, but one of the most powerful ways the Spirit plows the fields of our lives is through people, through children, through spouses, through parents, through siblings, through other friends and family and even strangers. And so I can’t think of a much better way to celebrate a penitential season than by having numerous occasions with all kinds of people in the same room. Going home for the holidays? Perfect. Going to see Great Aunt so and so for Christmas? Excellent. Having the whats-their-names over for dinner? These are all great opportunities to see the Spirit do His thing. And what’s His thing? Well, how will you respond when the dinner guests are late? Or they don’t like your food? Or they’re kind of cranky about celebrating Christmas? You know it was a pagan holiday, right? What about when the kids run through your freshly picked up living room and leave it in shambles right before the Advent party? What about when Uncle So-and-so launches into a speech on the evils and dangers of Peter Leithart and Douglas Wilson? People are ready made chances to see sin and opportunities to fight your own dragons. When does sin rear its ugly head in your life? When you’re tired, when you’re stressed, when you’ve spent too much money? When you’re annoyed at the commercialism of our culture, when the canned Christmas musack won’t stop? When the lines and crowds are milling around you? Use Advent as an opportunity to see your sins and confess them, to see your pride when you are slighted and confess it, to see your greed and envy and confess it, to see your lack of self control and contentment and confess it. Sinful people can always come up with a tidy penitence. We like the idea of confessing sin in the abstract, but we frequently hate actually doing it. Because it means saying out loud that you were wrong, that you sinned, and asking God and whomever you’ve wronged to forgive you. So plan the parties, decorate and sing and remember to confess your sins so that your joy may be full.