For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11
I must admit that Advent, as observed by the church, has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I get counting down the days, and I love the idea of a chocolate calendar that helps me. But I was not raised in a church that celebrated Advent, and even though we have been at North Wake for 18 years, I have always viewed advent as a purely “high church” tradition and not something for personal growth. But I wonder how this church tradition could impact my personal walk with Christ?
When I was assigned to write the med for prep for Advent week, I thought I would do what I always do when I’m trying to understand a topic: research the history behind it. That was easier said than done. I read articles from the Gospel Coalition, Britannica, the Catholic News Agency, and the United Methodist Church. I even tried Wikipedia and random blog posts. Do you want to know what I discovered? No one agrees on the history of Advent!
The Gospel Coalition admits that the exact dates are hard to pinpoint, but that there is written evidence of the tradition from the fourth century in Spain and Europe. They also say that was most likely in response to a heretical teaching of the day called Priscillianism. Okay that wasn’t really helpful. Catholic tradition points back to Advent beginning around the time of St. Augustine in the fifth century where they say it served as a time of preparation that was accompanied by works of penance. Hmm..well that is different. The United Methodist Church agrees that Advent began in the late fourth century (yay something agreed upon), but states it was created by the church to add another time of final preparation to accompany the three year preparation for baptism. On and on the articles went, never leading to any concrete answer of when or why the season of Advent began. This was not nearly as helpful as I hoped for.
I thought maybe I could look for some commonality between these different sources, especially focusing on The Gospel Coalition, The Catholic News Agency, and the United Methodist Church. They did all agree that the word “Advent” comes from a Latin word that means “coming.” There is debate, however, amongst these as to whether Advent was to focus on the coming of Christ as a babe in the manger, or if it is to point us solely to His second coming, or if it is to do both.
Maybe you are wondering why we spend time on this history lesson if it is getting us nowhere. Actually, it is getting us somewhere. It is getting us to understand that Advent isn’t as simple as counting down days or lighting a candle. Just as understanding the origins of Advent aren’t simple, it is also not simple for our minds to wrap around the understanding of Jesus coming to earth and taking on our flesh.
When the girls were little, Julia was practicing for a preschool Christmas concert, and she asked me why Jesus had to be born in a manger. As I sat in the car and began to tell her, the tears came. It hit me again that Jesus didn’t have to come in a manger; He could have chosen to come as a king to rule over all the earth, a warrior with a host of angels by his side, or as royalty that could command whatever He desired. Instead, He chose to be born in a manger. He chose to be born to a family that had no wealth or privilege. He chose to be questioned and rejected by the very people He came to save. He chose to be Emmanuel, God with us.
Our minds should always wonder and find awe in that truth. Our hearts should always praise Him for that. The choice He made to come and take on our flesh is why we have a high priest that can understand us. He didn’t stand far away and forbid us to draw us near. No, He pulled the children onto His lap. He touched the outcast. He healed the hurting. He saw the pain and the brokenness of this work, and He came to be with us while we walk the narrow path!
We do live in the in-between. We have salvation because Christ came, but we have a future hope of His reign over this world that has not yet come. This season of Advent draws our minds to the past, to the future, and to the throne of God where Christ sits at His right hand. I think of the last verse of “We Three Kings”
Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Heaven to earth replies
I began this post by asking, “How does this church tradition impact my personal walk with Christ?” Let’s end with this as well. This season is busy and full of wonderful activities from parties to shopping to baking to eating to visiting family. However, this advent season as we live in the in- between I pray our hearts and minds will be filled with the hope of Christ, the hope of what His salvation has already done, and the hope of what His future kingdom will bring. I pray we slow down to see and to breathe in the wonder of His life and death and resurrection. I pray that we all will find moments to pause and wonder at the good gifts that surround us everyday because of the work that God has done in us and those around us. I pray that in this advent season we will find ourselves in awe of the Son of God who for the joy set before Him came and took on our flesh and walked our earth so that we could be reconciled to the Father. Behold Him arisen and standing by the throne to intercede on our behalf to the Father, for Jesus Christ is King and God and Sacrifice.