By Rusty McKie
Light shines most brightly in the dark. In the Old Testament, we find God’s people in bondage to the slavery of sin and often to the oppressive nations around them. In the dark, they waited. In the dark, they hoped for the coming of a light to shine on them. God’s people in the Old Testament awaited the coming of Jesus, hoping in God’s promises. Through the season of Advent, we too await the second coming of Jesus as we acquire those Old Testament hopes and promises for ourselves.
The season of Advent is not commanded or required by God, but at Sojourn Chattanooga we believe it is a healthy rhythm seen throughout church history. Living in the land of the South, most folks are unknowingly confused, thinking Advent is no more than lighting candles on a Sunday. Advent can become something we do because we’ve always done it without the understanding of why we do it. Advent helps our church and our families cut through the noise of our lives to remember the reality of God’s world and God’s plan to save sinners. And let’s be honest—Christmas can be noisy.
With the sentimentalism and consumerism of Christmas hanging over us like ornaments and mistletoe, there can be a gap as large as the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest between the savage shopper and the suffering soul. One is filled with Christmas cheer, while the other is filled with Christmas dread. “Tis the season to be jolly” carries with it a plasticity and weight that the mother who lost her baby, or the man in your church who just tried to commit suicide, can’t bear. They’re dreaming of a happy Christmas, but most likely Christmas will hold a heightened sense of pain and longing. Christmas is a hard time of year for a lot of people. No amount of eggnog or Bing Crosby can cure what ails them. They need something more; they need someone better. They need Jesus!
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Isaiah 9:2
Advent bridges the gap between our sometimes-forced “holly, jolly Christmas” and the reality of the pain in our lives. Advent gives us permission to recognize that sometimes you try to be a nice little boy or girl and still get diagnosed with cancer. Advent gives us the freedom to not be okay and still have hope.
In light of the pain of life, Advent can be an immensely beneficial practice for our churches and our families. Practically, there are several ways to celebrate Advent. As a church, Sojourn uses an Advent wreath with candles that we progressively light every Sunday leading up to Christmas to symbolize the light growing brighter until Christ was born. Churches have also structured their services around different themes that teach the purpose of Advent and draw our attention toward Christ. This Advent Season, our director of worship arts, Alex Baxley, is focusing each week on a different aspect of who Jesus is—Shepherd, King, Priest and Savior.
In the home, families can worship together through times of working through different passage that focus on the coming of Christ. Advent calendars are also available with spaces for daily Scripture readings (as well as candy for the kids). There are plenty of resources out there, and since the observation of Advent is not clearly instructed by God there is a lot of freedom to get creative with your family or in your church.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and confess that I haven’t led my family in any of these practices this year. In fact, our Advent calendar is sitting in a box somewhere. In the chaos of life with planting a new church and having a new son, we just haven’t gotten around to it this year. However, this year has been the most meaningful Advent of all for us. My wife’s brother unexpectedly died this past April in an accident. Although Christmas time is our favorite time of year—remembering the birth of our Savior, the decorations, the lights, the music and the general cheer that people exude— this year has been difficult for my family.
The light has come, but darkness remains.
Graves are still being dug, hospitals are still being filled and counselors are still making a living. Advent has brought words to our grieving this Christmas Season. The fact that Jesus came once gives us hope that He will come again. And when He comes, the darkness in us and around us will be no more.
Christmas is filled with joy, but it’s a partial joy.
We hope, long for and wait for lasting joy between these two comings. What is more, we know that the waiting will not be in vain because we have the promise that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” and that “night will be no more. They will need no light or lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 21:5; 22:5).
If you light a candle with your church, use an Advent calendar with your family or don’t do any of those things, take some time between the turkey, presents and running from one family meal to another to reflect on the coming of Christ. “No more let sin and sorrow grow, Nor thorns infest the ground, He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found” (Lyrics from Joy To The World).
BIO: Rusty McKie is the founding pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Chattanooga, TN. Sojourn is a part of the Sojourn Network, which is a network of churches committed to planting more and healthier churches. Rusty received his MDiv from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to his lovely wife, Rachel, and is a father to his son, Justus. You can follow Rusty on Twitter @RustyMcKie.
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