BY DONNA CHURCHILL
I had never celebrated Advent until several years ago – well into adulthood! It was never a tradition that we celebrated when I was growing up. Now that I know more about it and what it means, I look forward to it every year.
The time before Christmas is called Advent, a season of preparation for Christmas. Christians prepare for celebrating the birth of Jesus by remembering the longing of the Jews for a Messiah. During Advent, we’re reminded of how much we ourselves also need a Savior, and we look forward to our Savor’s second coming even as we prepare to celebrate His first coming at Christmas.
One definition of Advent is “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event. The word Advent literally means “coming” or “arrival.” Advent is all about a season of preparation. A time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the coming Christ.
At this time of year, we often hear someone ask, “So, are you ready?” Usually that means – do you have everything done that you need to do – fix up and clean the house, decorate the house, buy the tree, decorate the tree, endless shopping to buy the presents, wrap the presents, do the baking, writing out and sending the Christmas cards, etc, etc.
But this question now reminds me of getting ready – not for the Christmas holiday – but getting reading to receive Him, born afresh and anew in my heart. That’s what Advent is really all about – the preparation of the heart to receive Emmanuel. Even though, as Christians, we’ve already received Him, our hearts can become complacent in appreciating the gift of His coming. That’s what I love about Advent. It reminds me again that the greatest gift, the greatest treasure I could ever receive, is indeed already mine!
Celebrating Advent causes me to slow down and focus on the Messiah and His presence in my life – at all times – but especially during this season which can rob our attention from Him and onto all the trappings the world deems so important this time of year. It causes me to quiet my spirit and sit before Him. It causes me to ponder His ways and search my heart. It causes me to reflect on how I’m celebrating the season and preparing for Him or it causes me to see where I fall short of that.
I have celebrated Advent using several different devotionals over the years. I love the daily readings that help me to “zoom in” on the Lord. Each day I stop, slow down and focus on some part of the Advent story. My heart is quieted and turned toward Him, which helps my focus for the day.
The first Sunday in Advent, (which was celebrated this past Sunday) we light the candle of Hope. And as we do, we’re reminded that our hope is in the person of Jesus Christ. We wait with hearts full of expectant hope for the one who has/will save us.
“And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee.”
The second Sunday in Advent, we light the candle of Love.
“For God so loved…..that He gave….”
God so loved you…God so loved me. He gave…His only Son became God incarnate. He became man and experienced all that man can experience as man…because of love. He came and dwelt among us…as one of us. Emmanuel – God with us! And this is the love that 33 years later would go to the cross in my place, in your place, to reconcile us to the Father. This is the love that not only was born in a lowly stable, but is also born in our sin-stained, foul hearts when invited!
The third Sunday in Advent, we light the candle of Joy. Joy is not happiness and happiness is not joy. Joy originates from faith, for joy is the very essence of faith. Joy is lasting; happiness is temporal. Joy is rooted in our faith; happiness is rooted in the moment, a fleeting moment. Joy, true joy, focuses on Jesus and who He is; happiness focuses on self. Joy causes our attention to be captured by the Giver more than the benefit or gift received.
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”
1 John 1:4
The fourth Sunday in Advent, we light the candle of Peace. Our world is not a very peaceful place right at the moment. With all that is happening, it would certainly seem peace is impossible to find. But into all this darkness and hopelessness comes one who offers us hope and says to us peace can be ours! True peace is only found in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus – the Prince of Peace!
“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
I love the readings of Advent and the anticipation created in my heart. I love the opportunity to turn my heart toward Him during this season. I feel a greater excitement of His presence in my day during this season. It’s like the excitement and anticipation a child feels waiting for Christmas.
But how much greater the “Gift” of Jesus than the temporal gifts we give each other??
Are you ready?
Are you ready……….to receive Him?
Are you ready………….…….to celebrate Him?
Are you ready to embrace His presence this Christmas season?
BY JORDAN MAYER
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
1 John 1:9
This verse from 1 John has been such a precious truth in my life. It is the kind of take-it-to-the-bank promise that I've clung to every time I fall back into sin. For me, the confessing was never the hard part. It was what came after that has long been a struggle for me.
I confess my sin before God, but feel so defeated, ashamed, and consumed by the weight of my sin, that for days on end I am depressed and moody. That's certainly not my reaction for every sin, but for those particular sins we tend to elevate in our minds. Those besetting sins we tend to separate from the rest. So when I stumble and commit one of those sins, it's like everything comes crashing down. And it's in those situations that I feel as though confessing is simply not enough, that there’s something I need to do. The sad thing is that it seems, in some sense, to be a righteous act. God will be pleased with me if I really beat myself up over my sin, I think.
But in reality, it reveals a hidden self-righteousness that Satan is all too eager to exploit. While his first mission is to keep as many people from believing in Jesus as he can, the next best thing is to so burden a Christian in doubt, guilt, and shame as to make them utterly defeated and ineffective for God’s kingdom work.
I have been that Christian at many points in my life. Oh, how many days I have wasted in the worthless pursuit of trying to cleanse myself of my sin, to somehow atone for my wrongdoing by making myself miserable. Do I believe Jesus died on the Cross for my sins? Certainly, I do! And yet, my actions reveal a tendency to doubt His sufficiency and place some of the burden on myself. Yes, Jesus died for my sins but…
No, not Jesus died for my sins but. Jesus died for my sins. Period.
We must expose these lies for what they are and turn to the truth of God's Word. If we confess our sins, whether it’s the first time today or the hundredth time, God will forgive us and cleanse us from it. That's not to say that God has to re-atone for our sin. No, Jesus’ work on the cross paid for sin once for all - past, present, and future (Hebrews 7:27). This also doesn’t mean that somehow our salvation hangs in the balance until we confess each and every sin. I don’t know about you, but I know that for every sin I confess, there's several others I've overlooked. The act of confession for a believer is not an attempt to restore God's salvation, it’s how we maintain fellowship with Him. Sin turns our eyes off of God. Confession and repentance turns our eyes back to God.
We can have confidence, then, that every time we bring our sins before God, He is ready and waiting to forgive and cleanse. Not reluctantly or begrudgingly, but with arms wide open. The same love that welcomed home the prodigal son is the same love that beckons us back every time we stray.