There is a theme in scripture that we get to emphasize at this time of year. God has come! One of the truths underlined in the four gospels is that God has come in the flesh, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The early church called this the doctrine of incarnation. Some of the earliest and longest debates in Christianity were about God and the nature of Jesus, and how do we understand his coming in the flesh. When God comes, everything in the world changes. That’s what this season is really all about.
I haven’t always appreciated this, and it wasn’t something emphasized very much by the faith tradition I grew up in. We worshipped God and preached from the Bible. We didn’t give much attention to the centuries of church history or tradition.
Whether you grew up in a tradition that didn’t celebrate Advent, or you’re confused what this is all about, we’re going to unpack it a little bit and point to how you can go deeper in prayer and service during this season.
What is Advent? What does Advent Mean?
The four weeks before Christmas are, in fact, the beginning of the Christian liturgical (or worship) calendar and are called Advent. What Advent means (from Latin adventus) is the coming or arrival, especially God’s coming into the world.
What does scripture teach us about God’s coming? Quite a lot actually.
God created this world and walked with man in fellowship until mankind walked away from God. Ever since, God has been working on ways to woo us back, to enjoy a close relationship with him. God has been devising ways to come to us a long time.
From a human perspective, God sometimes feels distant or absent, like he has gone away. If we could stop putting ourselves at the center of the world for a second, we would see it differently. God is still at the center of things, but we have pulled away from God, both personally and collectively as humans.
The amazing thing is that God comes to us, relating to us through human language and culture and even taking up our perspective and speaking in ways that make some sense to us.
The truth is God never left. Moses before he died reassured the people he led that, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6,8)
When Israel was unfaithful to God over and over and left him, he came to them repeatedly through his prophets. Jeremiah said this, “From the time your forefathers left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you my servants the prophets. But they did not listen to me or pay attention…” (Jeremiah 7:25-26)
Still God didn’t give up on his people. When they ignored the prophets, God used foreigners to come and take them captive. Israel went into exile as a harsh discipline to wake them from their spiritual stupor. God soon restored them to the promised land, and even without a king to lead them he promised that he himself was coming to live among them. Look up Micah 4-5 and soak in the plans and hope and love that God invested in coming to his people.
Advent of the Coming King
The Christian claim is that God has come. The King came as the prophets told and returned to his people in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
Just like Passover was an annual memorial to recall God’s great deliverance of his people from Egypt, Advent is a time to remember, to meditate and pray about God’s coming among his people.
We re-read the prophets and pray. We meditate on the gospels and listen closely to the words of Jesus. We sit under the instruction of the apostles who were eyewitnesses of God’s coming and we wait for his return again. Here are some specific suggestions for you.
- Read through one of the prophetic books early in Advent to focus on hope. Isaiah is a great book to read and he’s quoted the most by the writers of the New Testament. It’s also a long book — 66 chapters in fact — so I recommend one of the shorter prophetic books like Micah, especially chapters 4-5. And if you haven’t read Isaiah recently (or ever), why not do that in 2022?
- Pray through one of the gospels and focus on love. The shortest one is Mark, which I’ve talked about elsewhere this year on Word of Prayer. I’ve also written a series of books on praying through Matthew’s gospel and we have a season of podcasts devoted to that.
- Read and pray through all or a portion of one of the New Testament letters that emphasizes Jesus’ coming and our joy. Two suggestions: 1 Thessalonians is short and chs. 4-5 point to Christ’s second coming. 1 Corinthians 15 discusses Jesus’ resurrection and return.
- A final suggestion is to read and meditate on Revelation chs. 21-22, the last two chapters of the Bible and let God’s peace reign in your heart. It is full of hope and longing for the return of the Prince of Peace.
The Advent of Something New
One way to observe Advent is to focus on the four virtues of hope, love, joy and peace. Let these be weekly themes for you to ground yourself. As you do, let God’s Spirit give you some sanity and mental health as you move through all the emotions that often come with the end of the calendar year and the holiday season. Want to learn a little more about Advent and the specific themes and focus of each of the four weeks? Head over to crosswalk.com for more on that.
Advent outside of Christian contexts has come to mean the arrival or start of something new. If you haven’t observed or thought about God’s coming before, let this be a prompt to start something new for yourself.
You can commit yourself to worship, pray, read or meditate on the deeper meaning of this season. Ask God to increase your experience of hope, love, joy and peace in the middle of the holidays. Do something concrete to grow one step closer to God at this time, and let us hear from you in the comments or on one of our social channels so we can pray with you.