This year at CityLights Church, we will kick off a new annual four week series based on the Advent calendar. For 4 corporate gatherings before Christmas Day, we will shift our sermons to the topic of Advent. When you were small, did you receive a promise from an adult such as your parent, grandparent or older family member? Maybe they promised you something you really wanted. Maybe it was a special toy you wanted for Christmas or your birthday, or a trip to the circus, or Disney World, or your first pair of Nike shoes, or an ice cream outing. Do you remember the yearning within you for that special promise to come to pass? Do you remember counting down the days until the day your promise would arrive, and the excitement and joy that you felt when the promise was realized – when you entered through the gates of Disney World; when you opened that box and there was a big shiny red bicycle; when you finally had your favorite ice cream on a cone in your hands and were about to savor it?
Christmas can be like that for most of us. It is that day of the year that Christians celebrate the birth of Christ. But if we are honest, our longing for that day comes with mixed baggage. In our western culture, Christmas is for the most part about expecting a gift from someone we love, or loving buying a gift for that person who’s expecting it from us. We think of sitting around a fire drinking hot chocolate next to a beautifully lit Christmas tree, decorating our homes with lights, drinking egg nog, going to holiday parties, and the family gathering where your weird uncle shows up. For others, however, Christmas is an annoyance and it’s no wonder – each year we hear Jingle Bells earlier in the calendar year on our favorite FM station, you can’t walk down the aisle of your favorite department store around Labor Day without seeing a Christmas trees lit up, and you dread the sight of your weird family uncle at your family gathering. Still, for others, Christmas has lost its meaning for serious reasons. Reasons that bring pain that only seem to get worse as it each December 25 approaches.
The fact is, Christmas, can be a time of joy, sadness or both. We find joy in the preparations preceding that day. We buy our spouses a nice coat, or a piece of jewelry. We buy our children their dream toy or electronic gadget. We put lights up, cook some holiday food and enjoy the family gatherings around a chimney fire. But we also find sadness on that day when a loved one is far away in another town, or worse, has passed away. Both joy and sadness are normal to the human heart and have their proper place, but the danger is to be found banking that something temporary such as festivities, food, toys, gadgets and family gatherings will give you maximum joy. It is also dangerous to the soul to lose all hope and be in despair at this time of the year and to bank that that which is missing, if given back to us will also bring to us maximum joy.
But what if we could find joy in the typical Christmas celebrations? What if we could find joy in listening to Christmas carols and hymns, cooking our favorite meals, singing at church on Sundays, attending family gatherings, buying gifts, creating precious memories with our families and still say we prefer and await something better, like the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:23, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” When asked which is better, to live or to die, Paul acknowledges both are good but one is better, and that is the one that takes him immediately to Christ.
Or what if we could say as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, “We are afflicted but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” When asked if his sufferings are too deep that they will not let him rejoice, Paul would not deny the presence of suffering without joy, nor joy without suffering. His joy in Christ trumps all t the sorrow in his life.
The word advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means, “coming.” Historically, in the church, Advent begins 4 Sundays before Christmas and it is a season in which God’s people remind themselves that while we are on earth, the deepest longing of our hearts is to be with our King Jesus. It is a reminder of the story of God’s people throughout centuries and millennia, awaiting the coming of the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, in whom they trusted by faith for justification and salvation. And for us today, it is also a reminder that we await Jesus’ second return. It is our hope and prayer that you enjoy this Christmas season and that you demonstrate love to your loved ones, but above all, we desire that your hearts be stirred afresh for the real reason of this season – that Christ the Lord was born and is our Savior.
Our advent series is entitled, “Great Expectations”. As we spend 4 weeks in Luke 2, ask yourself, “In who or what do I have great expectations?” We pray that as your heart longs for good, temporary things, that it would long even more for what is eternal – Jesus Christ, and that your heart would break forth in worship because there is good news of great joy, for all people, only to be found in Christ the Lord. May our hearts not find more joy in the traditions of Christmas than the One who has made the traditions possible and may they find hope in the One who is sovereign over our sufferings even on Christmas Day.